King of the back five is ready for Wales
JAMES King is hungry to play international rugby — after shedding almost a stone in weight against Leicester last weekend.
The Ospreys forward lost 6kg during the Heineken Cup clash with Leicester at the Liberty Stadium.
That's more than 13lb in old money.
His was a remarkable effort that saw him figure at lock yet return the stats of a back-row forward, with 13 tackles, seven carries and a turnover, not to mention impressive line-out work.
By the final whistle, King was the Ospreys' version of the incredible shrinking man.
"He finished the game at under 100kg through the sheer volume of work that he put in," said Ospreys assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys.
"He would have been 106kg when he started.
"The amount of work he gets through is phenomenal."
King prefers to play in the back row but has excelled at lock for the Ospreys in the absence of the injured Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans over the past two months.
At 6ft 4in, he isn't the tallest second row, but he is still a reliable line-out option and his work around the field sets him apart.
"You would ideally like 120kg second rows because there is a certain element of the game that involves a scrum and maul," said Humphreys.
"But his numbers from No. 5 are phenomenal, even for a back- rower. Tackles, ball-carries, everything in the game.
"Bear in mind he's in the middle of a scrum pushing as hard as he can for most of that.
"The kid is a great athlete and custom-made for international rugby.
"He is a back-rower playing in the second row. His best position is six but he's ready to play second row for Wales.
"He played out in Toulouse against a monster pack, he's played against Leicester, who are not far off the English pack.
"He's ready to play international rugby. We know his best position is blindside, but we want to develop a back-five player and he is a guy who can play 4, 5, 6 and 8 and 7 at a push."
King has broken through this season, benefiting from a run of games.
"He came on to our radar four years ago when he was playing in Mold in North Wales," said Humphreys.
"He came down and he was a real raw, skinny kid.
"It's great to see him come on. He's running our line-out for us exceptionally well.
"Here is a kid who we had to call on for a first European start against Toulouse in France, playing in the second row and given responsibility for calling the line-outs, yet it didn't faze him. He called them extremely well.
"There are certain kids who are made for international rugby, who have the athletic ability to do the extras. And this kid has all those qualities."
The Ospreys are hopeful a number of their crocked forwards will be available for Wales against Ireland on February 2, including Richard Hibbard, who left the field with a damaged shoulder against Leicester.
For all the world, the hooker looked set for a lengthy lay-off. But Hibbard tends not to operate to the rules that govern other players.
"He'll definitely be fit for Wales-Ireland," said Humphreys. "I thought he was outstanding from the that very first contact with Jordan Crane that ended putting Crane off. Here was a kid who had a bad shoulder which we had to manage all week, and in the first couple of minutes of the game he's smashing into someone and carries on playing.
"We had to drag him off with 20 minutes to go.
"He's not a danger to himself. He's just a loyal kid who wants to do his best. With one shoulder he was phenomenal at the weekend. I hope he starts for Wales."
Humphreys added: "If it were up to me to pick the Lions squad, I'd pick him because I think he is the best hooker in Europe.
"Am I biased? Probably. But I spend my life looking at other players, other hookers' strengths and weaknesses. The kid's 112kg, phenomenally aggressive, outstanding at set-piece — what more do you want?
"He can change games and is very, very important to us. I don't see what more you want from a kid."