Ospreys back Dan Biggar after Rhys Priestland's injury
THE Ospreys are backing Dan Biggar "100 per cent" to claim the Wales No. 10 jersey after the crushing injury blow that will sideline Rhys Priestland for the next six months.
Priestland (right) underwent surgery yesterday to repair the ruptured Achilles tendon he sustained in the Scarlets' Heineken Cup clash with Exeter.
The 25-year-old will miss the Six Nations and is already a doubtful starter for the Lions tour of Australia next summer.
For Wales, it will mean a serious rethink, with the coaches having based so much of their game-plan around Priestland over the past 16 months, even sticking with him when he was clearly out of form.
Biggar and James Hook are at the front of the queue to take over for the Six Nations, with the Ospreys advancing Biggar's claims and challenging him to show he deserves a run in the shirt worn by greats such as Barry John, Phil Bennett, Cliff Morgan, David Watkins and Jonathan Davies in the past.
"I think Dan is ready," said Ospreys backs coach Gruff Rees.
"There were frustrations for him in the autumn and he returned to us a bit rusty in one or two technical areas, but he has added so much to his attacking game.
"We know he is a good ten tactically because he has been spot-on from the end of last season through to the early months of this term.
"I'd back him 100 per cent for that Welsh shirt."
Wales are set to be faced with the choice that the Ospreys wrestled with for more than three seasons: whether to use Biggar or Hook in the pivotal position. The duel between the pair used to be portrayed as a contest between a kicker and a runner, but Biggar has developed his own offensive game and there has always been more to Hook than just making breaks.
"We were certainly pleased with Daniel's display with ball in hand in Toulouse," said Rees.
"He was the instigator in terms of accelerating onto the ball, making good decisions, putting others into space and supporting.
"He would be the type to thrive on being a first choice fly-half. He has certainly done so here since we backed him. We trust him, he trusts us, and we tend to get the reward.
"There could be a huge opportunity for him, but he needs to play well against Toulouse on Saturday, in the big Christmas derbies and in our European matches next month — then he can hit the ground running with Wales, which I'm sure he'll be able to do."
It is hard not to feel sympathy for Priestland, who endured a tough autumn series before finding some form against Australia.
He showed character to bounce back to something like his best against the Wallabies, but he faces a long haul back to fitness.
Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby, who suffered a similar injury during his playing days, said: "It took me nine or ten months to come back, but today it is taking players six months and hopefully Rhys can be on that positive end of the timescale.
"Unfortunately, it looks like he is out of most of the season.
"It's a big blow for him. I thought he recovered well after some poor performances in the early autumn games. He played well against Australia and was going well on the weekend until that happened. It's disappointing for him because it's a big year for us and him with what's on the horizon. It's a big loss."
Gavin Henson might also be in the Wales mix, while some are pushing Rhys Patchell after just six starts for the Blues. Matthew Morgan has developed nicely at the Ospreys, but like Patchell, he may lack the miles on the clock for Test rugby.
By MARK ORDERS