Battle for Wales No.10 shirt hots up as Dan Biggar is back in fold
WALES have thrown Dan Biggar a tantalising challenge after the in-form Osprey's inclusion in the national squad for the autumn series.
The 23-year-old was yesterday named as one of three fly-halves in Rob Howley's 35-strong panel for the games with Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
Neil Jenkins confirmed that as the incumbent Rhys Priestland was still felt to be in pole position by the Wales management.
Biggar and James Hook have both been playing well, but former Wales fly-half Jenkins, kicking coach in Warren Gatland's regime, stressed the onus was on each player to show why he should be picked ahead of the Scarlet.
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"When Rhys has played for Wales he has been excellent," said Jenkins.
"He is the number one for us at the minute. He holds the shirt, and it is up the other players to get it off him."
Priestland is evidently still in credit after his performances at the World Cup and the way he implemented a kicking-based gameplan in the Grand Slam clash with France at the Millennium Stadium last March.
He performed strongly for the Scarlets in their clash with Clermont Auvergne a week last Saturday.
But he wasn't at his best against Leinster three days ago, his goal-kicking again faltering, and Jenkins concedes that Biggar and Hook are breathing down the 25-year-old's collar.
"I am sure Rhys might be nervous, but we want to develop strength in depth and it is great if people are putting pressure on those who are in possession of the shirt.
"Dan is certainly doing that with the No. 10 jersey.
"He is one of the best goal-kickers in the game, but his form generally has been pretty good, too. He is mixing his game up, making breaks and using his attributes more than he has in the past.
"Hooky is an outstanding player as well, though his problem is that he is capable of filling so many different roles.
"My own view is that No. 10 is his best position.
"I feel he is world-class in that role. But don't count Rhys out. He gives us something different in the way he plays and he sees the game as we do. He has a great balance to his rugby. We have no issues with him."
Jenkins believes hard work will help Priestland get over his goal-kicking travails.
"You just have to stick at it," said the former Lion.
"I watched Rhys against Clermont Auvergne and he had a 100 per cent record. While he missed three against Leinster, they weren't easy.
"He has to work hard to make himself better and he is doing that.
"Is it nerve or technique? It's a mixture of everything. Rhys is practising very well. It's a question of transferring that onto the pitch."
The other variable is that Wales's current goal-kicker is full-back Leigh Halfpenny, meaning the national coaches do not have to worry so much about their No. 10 being able to kick goals.
Meanwhile, interim coach Rob Howley accepts that a solution to the problem of overseas player departures will not be found overnight.
But Howley is confident ongoing talks between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four professional regions can reach a satisfactory conclusion.
"We need to find a Welsh solution," he said.
"At this moment in time there is a lot of good talk going on between the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union, and I am sure at some stage a solution will be found.
"It is important the right solution is found. It's not going to happen overnight. It's softly, softly, and communications are in place, and I am sure a solution will be in place shortly."