Teen prodigy in Wales frame
Wales interim coach Rob Howley admits 19-year-old Cardiff Blues flyhalf Rhys Patchell has thrown his hat into the Six Nations selection ring.
Wales interim coach Rob Howley admits Cardiff Blues flyhalf Rhys Patchell has thrown his hat into the Six Nations selection ring.
The 19-year-old starlet has risen to prominence with a string of impressive performances for his region in recent weeks.
He almost inspired the 14-man Blues to a European Cup victory over Montpellier at the Arms Park in December and has produced man of the match performances in the triumphs over Newport Gwent Dragons and Munster.
With Rhys Priestland ruled out for the duration of the Championship, Dan Biggar and James Hook are leading the race for the Welsh No.10 jersey.
But Howley has paid tribute to the Blues' young flyhalf and insists he is another candidate to pull the strings for Wales in their Six Nations defence.
"Rhys is a young, developing player who is an option for us, but whether we pick two or three No.10s in the squad we will have to wait and see," said Howley.
"What is in no doubt is that Rhys has taken his chance with the Blues and I am in constant communication with Phil Davies and Gareth Baber about his talents.
"His kicking and defensive game is good and he is also quick to make a break and challenge the line."
Patchell, however, is keen to play down the international speculation and is focused on establishing himself as a permanent fixture in the Blues flyhalf shirt.
"I don't know about first-choice at the moment, there's a lot of really good 10s down there and whoever wears the Blues jersey knows they have to play at their best to keep it.
"But in terms of how quickly it has happened, it has been surprising.
"I'm not particularly comfortable with the international speculation. I'm 19 years old and if I had had a shocker against Montpellier everyone would have been dismissing me and saying 'what is this joker doing, he doesn't belong in a professional rugby team.
"It is really humbling that people are saying I could potentially do this but I'm 19 and if it happens in the next two or three years then that's great but at the moment I want to play every week for the Blues and that's where it's at for me."
Of the other contenders for the keys to the No.10 jersey, Hook is currently sidelined with a chest injury.
He is expected to return to action ahead of the Championship and Biggar faces a crunch European Cup tie against Leicester Tigers on Sunday.
And Howley remains confident that Wales have the talent to fill the void left by Priestland.
"We will miss Rhys but we feel we have some strength in Dan and James," said Howley.
"There is good competition there because they are both hugely skilful players.
"Dan was one of the form players going into the autumn before his injury against Samoa and he has been playing well since.
"We have always talked about Dan's kicking game being effective but he has become more of a running threat now.
"He is creating a lot of opportunities for the team and himself and is putting together an all-round game.
"Dan just needs to take it onto another level now when he gets the opportunities with Wales.
"I have spoken to James over the last few days and we are hoping he will play some part in Perpignan's final Challenge Cup game.
"Failing that, he should be available the following week in the French domestic league the weekend before the Ireland opener."