Ospreys: Eli Walker happy to follow in maestro's slipstream
IMAGINE attempting a drive on a golf course after Tiger Woods has just had a go. Or giving a speech seconds after Barack Obama has left the lectern. Or rocking up to give a lecture on physics after Einstein has just done his stuff.
For sure, it can be a tall order to follow in the footsteps of the illustrious.
But that is the brief of Eli Walker at the Ospreys this season.
He is the player who is wearing the No. 11 jersey that Shane Williams donned with such distinction for the region over the years. The same Shane Williams who wrote his own scripts rather than followed other people's. Who scored 161 tries in a dazzling career for Neath, the Ospreys, Wales and the Lions.
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World player of the year in 2008, he went on to become that rare breed, a veteran who stayed sharp until the end, signing off at the age of 35 with two tries in the Pro12 final against Leinster in Dublin.
How does anyone follow that?
By taking on board tips from the master, by staying grounded and by refusing to pile too much pressure on yourself — that's how.
Cue Walker on succeeding Williams: "It's awesome.
"I've come through the academy and age-group teams and was fortunate enough to train with Shane. Hopefully, I've learned a thing or two from him.
"The main thing he taught me was the importance of confidence and backing yourself.
"He's big on backing himself having seen so many people doubt him over the years. His example shows if you have the confidence and ability it helps you in games.
"I don't see it as added expectation that I'm following him. I'm only 20, so I guess the idea is for me to do as well as I can."
Williams wasn't the only big name out wide at the Ospreys last season, of course. Tommy Bowe and Nikki Walker were there, 73 tries between them for the region.
"I'm comfortable with succeeding those guys," said Walker, set to feature for the Pro12 champions in their Heineken Cup date with Leicester at Welford Road on Sunday.
"Shane, Tommy and Nikki were great players for the Ospreys and I looked up to Richard Fussell as well — top wings, all of them.
"I just have to work hard in training every day and play as well as I can in matches."
Fortunately for Walker, he has something money can't buy — electric pace. Treviso encountered it last Friday when the former Swansea man cut through their cover, leaving four defenders in his vapour trail as he crossed for a spectacular try.
"It's always good to score," he said. "I'm a wing and that's what I like to do. I just try to look for as much ball as I can coming in off the wing. That's my main job at the moment.
"Did I think a try was on when I received Richard Fussell's pass? You have to expect anything when you receive the ball. You have to back yourself if you get an opportunity, because you don't get many at this level. It's vital you take what chances there are."
How quick is he? "Over 40 metres, I did 4.72 seconds last year," he said. "I did some athletics in school, but it was just for fun rather than anything competitive.
"But you can't buy pace and in that respect I'm lucky because it's one thing I was born with. Hopefully, I can put some weight on now."
Weight — the issue that is occupying Walker's mind a lot, with the youngster intent on bulking up for the challenge of competing in a sport that these days features countless giant wings, with the 6ft 4in, 17st 6lb George North and the 6ft 6in, 16st 5in Alex Cuthbert two examples of the modern breed.
"Bulking up will be on the agenda over the next couple of years," said Walker, who has played at full-back and says he could fancy a move to outside centre if he can fill out in the coming seasons.
"I've struggled with my weight since I was young, trying to keep it on. I'm around 13st 10lb and I'm aiming for 14st 9lb. The key is to try to keep my calories high. I burn enough off in weights and training, so it's about eating as much as I can to try to get that weight on.
"I need to do it because the game is changing. Warren Gatland is big on strong, physical players, so bulking up is obviously something to look at."
It is exaggerating to say Walker has the speed of a cheetah, but the Tigers would be advised to watch him all the same.