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Wilson says pair can compete for No.2 jersey

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

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THE Scarlets are backing hookers Matthew Rees and Ken Owens to challenge the in-form Richard Hibbard for the Wales No. 2 jersey.

All three players were named in acting head coach Rob Howley's Six Nations squad, with the Ospreys' player of the year Hibbard tipped to be in pole position to start against Ireland on February 2.

His bulldozing regional form has even led to some calls for his inclusion in this summer's British Lions touring party, but the Scarlets reckon he will have a fight on his hands for a place in the Welsh side.

Hooker has been a position of strength for the Llanelli region in recent seasons, with Rees and Owens winning 70 Wales caps between them.

An injury to Hibbard in the autumn defeat to Samoa saw Rees regain his starting place against New Zealand and Australia, and the Scarlets' forwards coach Danny Wilson reckons both he and Owens are leading contenders to play for Wales in the Six Nations.

"The hookers are both good," he said. "They both have different areas to work on with different strengths and weaknesses, but that is the nice balance we have with them.

"Matthew is an exceptional set-pieced hooker whose scrum and line-out work is second to none. He also brings a lot of experience to the rest of the group.

"Ken is developing in that area and will say himself he needs to keep improving.

"But his real strength as you saw on the weekend is his carries with another 10 or 11 against Leinster. He is a real presence around the park.

"They are both working hard in both areas and I am sure they will be battling it out to win that shirt in the Six Nations."

Rees and Owens were among nine Scarlets players to be included in the 35-man squad for Wales's defence of their Six Nations crown.

There were a couple of omissions with young prop Samson Lee and back-rower Rob McCusker missing out having been involved during the autumn, but Wilson was pleased with the number of his region's players in the squad.

"It is great to see a strong representation from the region and they are boys who have been playing a fair amount of rugby," he said.

"Samson had been given a chance thanks to a long range of injuries and was playing well enough at the time to be called in.

"It was a great experience for him, but we probably all know a 20-year-old tight-head prop needs to be playing rugby and hopefully he will get those opportunities here.

"Rob has had an injury and he is probably not quite back at the form he was before. We understand that because he was out for quite a while and he was getting back to that form.

"He will be disappointed but we know he is a good enough professional to play well for the Scarlets and he will be aiming to get back in that squad."

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