Walker targets Welsh place
Wales' new wing wonder Eli Walker has warned George North and Alex Cuthbert he is gunning for their places.
North and Cuthbert starred in last season's Six Nations Grand Slam triumph with their mix of pace and brutal power, but it is Ospreys three-quarter Walker who is the form winger in Welsh rugby.
The uncapped 20-year-old, a gifted athlete at schoolboy level, has scored five tries in 13 appearances for his region this season but it is in the Heineken Cup where he has made the biggest impact.
When the Ospreys stunned French giants Toulouse in December, jet-heeled Walker was the star of the show.
The Wales Under-20 cap completely outplayed opposite number Vincent Clerc, leaving the France winger for dead for his try and making several thrilling, scything bursts through the opposing defence to secure the man-of-the-match award.
Further heroics during the draw against Leicester, allied to a wonderful solo try against Treviso in the opening round of group fixtures, marked Walker out as a man confidence-shorn Wales, on a run of seven-straight defeats, could not do without as they prepare to defend their title.
Walker is battling to be fit for this weekend's Six Nations opener against Ireland due to a hamstring problem, but has set himself the task of usurping one of his rivals before the tournament is over.
"It's definitely a goal to be capped," he said. "I'd like to think I'm not here just to make up the numbers but to put pressure on the other guys. I'd like to think we feed off each other.
"My form has been good and I came back from the Under-20 World Cup (where Walker was part of the Wales squad that beat the junior All Blacks) last summer with a lot of confidence from Wales finishing third to take into this season.
"It has been great to get a few games under my belt with the Ospreys and I've built from there.
"Last season it was quite hard jumping in and out of the team but when you have a run of games, you get into a rhythm and have some continuity."
While North and Cuthbert, both of whom are in contention for Lions honours in the summer, will be difficult to shift from their spots, Walker does offer interim head coach Rob Howley a different threat to those posed by his giant rivals.
And he has no fears about going up against them for a Wales place.
"I don't know about it being daunting," he said.
"I have known George a long time, since Wales Under-16s. He's a great guy and a very good player, he always was, as we came up through the ranks.
"I suppose Cuthbert and George are big and powerful guys but I like to think I have got speed in my game and I'm a different type of player."
Ireland also have their own roster of potent wingers to choose from.
Even though Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald are unavailable, Declan Kidney can still call on Munster's Simon Zebo and Ulster's Craig Gilroy.
The latter made a huge impact on debut against Argentina in the autumn, and Walker rates he and Zebo highly, but knows they themselves will have plenty to worry about, particularly after North proved a constant menace during last year's meeting in Dublin.
He said: "They are very exciting players and are growing in confidence every game. Both of them are explosive, quick wingers, which you'd expect at international level, and good finishers.
"But we have got our own flying squad. Alex has been around the sevens circuit and, like George, he's a big guy who can shift as well."
Despite the hype that has surrounded his rise to the national squad, including high praise from former Ospreys team-mate and Wales' record try scorer Shane Williams, Walker has vowed to keep his feet on the ground.
He said: "I don't read the newspapers. I try to avoid them. My grandparents have got scrapbooks of cuttings from 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 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."