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Former weightlifter Nicky Smith is ready for Six Nations lift-off with Wales

Nicky Smith will make his Six Nations debut on Sunday as the latest model to roll off Wales' prop production line.

With Wales' record cap holder Gethin Jenkins sidelined by injury, 22-year-old Ospreys loosehead Smith has gained the nod over Rob Evans to start against opening RBS 6 Nations opponents Italy in Rome.

And it is a huge opportunity for the one-time weightlifter to showcase his power and technique, while also underlining that the cupboard is far from empty in terms of potential long-term successors to 36-year-old triple Grand Slam winner Jenkins.

"I am really looking forward to it - I'm chuffed to get the start," Smith said.

"It's a big loss for the team to lose somebody like Gethin, but I am happy to get the nod and I'm looking to perform and enjoy myself.

"I play my best rugby when there is competition, and to be fair, Rob is a great player. We push each other well.

"I get the opportunity in this game, but I know I will have to produce my best performance with Rob there, as I could lose my shirt quite easily.

"As a prop, you can't just scrummage now, you have to offer yourself around the park. To be fair to Rob, he does that well and that's something I really want to work on in my game."

Smith started his junior rugby career as a number eight with Waunarlwydd - the same Swansea Valley club that produced his current Wales team-mate Liam Williams - but he added: "Then I realised I was too short and chubby, and the front-row would be my best option.

"My team manager moved me there, and I had a few arguments with him because I didn't want to do it, but luckily I listened to him.

"During the autumn Tests this season, Gethin was always there to help me if I had any questions. If I was worried about anything, he would be the first person I would go to.

"Obviously, it's a bit of a loss with him not being here in this period, but I still have people like (Wales international) Paul James back at the Ospreys. I know I can give him a call if I need any help.

"Me and Rob help each other, too. We are fighting for the same shirt, but at the end of the day we're team-mates and we help each other out."

Smith's eye-catching form for the Ospreys in league and European action this term has underpinned elevation to a first Six Nations appearance. Sunday will be an eighth Test cap, but this weekend is unquestionably a huge opportunity to put down a marker.

"The Ospreys have had a brilliant season so far, and that obviously shows with the number of boys we have in the (Wales) squad," he said.

"But it's also great to mix with other boys from different regions you are maybe not used to. That is what's great about this team. There are no cliques."

Rugby apart, weightlifting was a passion for Smith moving through his teenage years.

And while he might now be focussing all his attention on a different type of power game, Smith's sporting background means he will be no pushover, especially given that he once bench-pressed a colossal 200 kilos.

"When I was younger I did quite a bit of weightlifting with my father. That was something I really enjoyed," he added.

"I am a bit sad I can't do as much now with the amount of rugby we play. Maybe after rugby - if I'm not too battered - it's something I will go back to.

"I did it for enjoyment, really, and then when I started playing rugby it was a benefit because it helped with playing prop.

"It was basic stuff, just core exercises like bench and squat. My father did training when he was younger, so he was great to teach me. He was a bodybuilder, but low-level stuff. He didn't do anything too professional.

"I did manage to get up to 200 kilos once with a bench. That was a long time ago now."

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