Ospreys' Ashley Beck looks to offer some extra polish
NO longer is it unusual to come across an international rugby centre capable of rescuing a piano from a burning building.
The game has changed beyond recognition since the days when Leicester hailed their centre Paul Dodge as The Colossus. He actually weighed just 12st 7lb when England faced Wales in 1978.
Think of all the hulking midfield men around now — the 17st 4lb Mathieu Bastareaud, the 16st 11lb Jamie Roberts, the ridiculously powerful Ma'a Nonu, the 16st 7lb Jonathan Davies.
If Dodge travelled through time but retained his 1970s dimensions, the talk wouldn't be about The Colossus. More likely, there would be cries today of "go play a different sport, yer mug".
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But for those who like a spot of variety in their lives the good news is there's still room for the No. 12 or No. 13 who, in rugby terms, can actually play the piano as well as give it a shove.
Ashley Beck isn't small by any stretch of the imagination but power isn't his main selling point. Rather, he looks to catch the eye with subtlety and deftness, refined skill more than brute strength.
He gives the Wales coaches options. Roberts, Davies and Scott Williams are all direct players, but Beck offers something different if the battering ram isn't working. He can smoke would-be tacklers out of a defensive line and then leave them clutching thin air with a shake of the hips or a smartly chosen angle of running.
But there is a challenge for him if he is to command a front-line role this autumn. He may hold the No. 12 shirt after the tour of Australia, but Roberts is back and the Wales selectors like him.
They value his ability to pound his way over the gain-line. They like what he has done for them in the past. They believe in him.
But Beck knows the score. Heading out to Poland for a week's training with Wales, he said: "It's hot competition with the two Scarlets boys, Scott and Jon, playing really well and Jamie coming back and trying to find a bit of form.
"There's real competition, but it is going to push us on and make us better players."
It will be up to each player to show up well in Spala. Rob Howley said before he went that the coaches would use the time to closely monitor players and the conclusions would be factored into the selection process for the autumn.
Beck isn't short of confidence in himself, saying: "Jamie probably hated being injured and having to give up the jersey but at the minute I can't wait for the games and I'll do what I can to take whatever chance comes my way.
"We've had matches building up to this and everyone is trying to perform to hold onto their jerseys.
"Now we have a week in Poland to prove who wants it and who's going to work hardest for it."
Wales are wise to be working hard, with World Cup seedings dependent on where teams are in the IRB's December rankings.
The aim is to make the top four and avoid clashing with New Zealand, South Africa or Australia at the pool stage in 2015.
Howley's side are currently behind England and France, in sixth, but they could overhaul both with a successful autumn.
The challenge for the players will be to quickly banish memories of the Welsh woe in Europe this season, with the regions recording just one win in eight games.
"I don't think morale will be affected," said Beck.
"While the last batch of results in Europe didn't go well, one weekend doesn't make us bad players.
"We know how tough the games will be, but we are at home, so I can't see why we can't target three out of four wins or even go for all four.
"It's our home patch, it's a talented group of players and the crowd will be behind us. There's no harm in pushing and really going for it."