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Speedster Eli Walker not letting the praise go to his head

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 30, 2013

Eli Walker

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THERE may not be a camel hair coat, a cigar or a second-hand BMW in sight, but Wales have a collection of wide boys in their Six Nations squad that even Del Boy might have envied.

Eli Walker, George North and Alex Cuthbert are the fastest three wings to have assembled in a Welsh national set-up for some time.

It isn't about wheeling and dealing for them.

They duck only to avoid high tackles and dive only when in sight of the opposition try-line.

But they all know how to seal the deal on a rugby pitch and they offer Rob Howley options for sparking Wales's attacking game.

North and Cuthbert are two of a kind. Battering ram players who are blessed with blistering pace.

If they don't run over you, they hurtle past you. Had they been playing in the 1970s they would have been considered big second rows.

Walker is new on the block and different in that he isn't built like a brick outhouse.

Had he been around in the 1970s he would have been considered for wing duties and wing duties alone. For he has something that every top flyer who has ever played the game has boasted — electric pace.

He runs like the wind and offers Wales an extra dimension.

He is that rare breed, a player who can change a game in an instant and encourage an entire stadium-full of people to rise to their feet in excitement.

He returned to training yesterday after a slight hamstring injury and so will need to come from behind to win selection for Saturday's game with Ireland, but he is a player with a future, someone who can expect to win many caps for Wales and score lots of Test tries as well.

The challenge is to get a look in. With North and Cuthbert in front of him, Walker could hardly have a tougher task. But he is up for it.

"I don't know about it being a daunting challenge," he said.

"I have known George a long time, since Wales Under-16s. He's a great guy and a very good player. He was always good when we were coming up through the ranks together.

"I suppose Cuthbert and George are big and powerful guys.

"I like to think I have got speed in my game. I'm a different type of player." To say Walker has been feted in the past few weeks is to invite a visit from the understatement police. Howley described him as the in-form wing in the UK, while former Wales captain Gwyn Jones went further, calling him as exciting as any player in European rugby.

How does a youngster of 20 keep his feet on the ground when comments like that are coming in?

"I don't read newspapers," he said. "I try to avoid them.

"My grandparents have being putting together scrapbooks of cuttings ever since I picked up a rugby ball. They're always giving me a ring and saying: 'Have you seen this or that?'

"But my attitude is that one week you can have a good game and the next not so good. I try to keep a clear head and concentrate on my goals."

Even Shane Williams got in touch after Walker's call-up to the senior squad.

The greatest Wales wing of the past 30 years may be based in Japan these days, but he stays abreast of developments back home and when his successor as Ospreys' No. 11 received the nod from Howley it wasn't long before a Williams tweet was winging its way across the world.

"I had a nice congratulatory tweet from Shane. He's a good friend and it has been good to be around people like him growing up," said Walker.

"When I was in the academy at the Ospreys, I was lucky to be on the training field with Shane during the tail-end of his career with the Ospreys. Seeing his running lines and chatting about the game with him has helped me. He told me to have confidence and belief in my ability."

Walker is from Gorseinon, where Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar cut their rugby teeth. He played for Swansea before stepping up to such effect with the Ospreys.

What are his targets for the Six Nations?

"It's definitely a goal to be capped," he said.

Don't bet against that happening at some point over the next two months.

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