Rob Howley drops a Biggar hint over Osprey at 10
ROB Howley has hinted Dan Biggar is in pole position to start the Six Nations as Wales's first-choice fly-half.
With Rhys Priestland out for the season with an Achilles injury, the No. 10 jersey is up for grabs and the Ospreys man appears to be the leading candidate.
Biggar won his 11th Test cap against Samoa in November, but he lasted just 37 minutes before a shoulder injury forced him off the field.
He is now jostling with the likes of ex-regional team-mate James Hook, who is currently nursing a minor injury at Perpignan, and Blues tyro Rhys Patchell to play against Ireland on February 2.
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Biggar has been in excellent form for the Ospreys over the last 18 months, and Wales's interim head coach Howley seems to have been impressed.
Selecting the 23-year-old would be quite a turnaround from the former Wales scrum-half, who publicly declared himself "really disappointed" with Biggar's performance following a 16-16 draw with Fiji in 2010.
For some, this criticism raised doubts about the Ospreys' international future, but his recent displays appear to have changed Howley's mind.
"Dan Biggar is playing well," he said.
"We have always talked about his kicking game being effective, but he has become more of a running threat now and creating a lot of opportunities for the team and himself.
"He is putting together a game now and he also needs to take it on to another level now when he gets the opportunities with Wales.
"I have spoken to James over the last few days and we are hoping he will play some part in a game either in the Amlin Challenge Cup or a week later.
"We will miss Rhys Priestland but we feel as if we have some strength in Dan and James."
Wales have endured a catastrophic year in terms of injury, with Priestland joining the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Ian Evans, Luke Charteris and Huw Bennett on the sidelines.
They have also been without Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny over the last 12 months, but Howley is hopeful 2013 will be less afflicted by injury.
"I am hoping for less injuries this year because they had a huge influence in the autumn," he said.
"The coaching team have never been in this position before where we have lost players so early on during matches.
"Usually you see players coming off after 50 or 60 minutes, but to lose people in the first quarter or even two minutes was tough.
"It is difficult to ask people to come off the bench when they have not had enough preparation time and it put our strength in depth to the test.
"I hope between now and the start of the campaign we don't pick up any more injuries.
"At this moment we are struggling on the fitness of Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans and Dan Lydiate.
"Adam Jones coming back is a huge boost for a team. We have seen how effective he can be at scrum-time over the last four weeks. He will add to our potency in the scrum.
"Adam is one of the best tight-heads in world rugby."
Jones's return has been a blessing for the Ospreys and Wales, and his staying fit will be pivotal to both sides' ambitions this year.
Packing down alongside him at regional level recently has been Richard Hibbard, the destructive hooker who was named the Ospreys' player of the season last term.
Hibbard endured a difficult summer tour to Australia with Wales last summer, but his form for the Ospreys since then has presented his international coaches with an irresistible case for inclusion.
His explosive carrying and powerful scrummaging have also seen him touted as a candidate for the British Lions, and Howley admits he is another player to have caught the eye.
"Richard Hibbard has been playing particularly well over the last few weeks," he added.
"I have been impressed by his carrying game and his overall work rate."
Whereas Biggar and Hibbard have been in or around the Welsh set-up for years, there could be a new Osprey in the squad for the Six Nations.
Young winger Eli Walker has been outstanding this season, scoring five tries in 12 appearances and impressing with his pacy, daring running.
The 20-year-old has been linked with a Wales call-up, and now Howley has given his first indication that the Gorseinon speed merchant could feature in his next squad.
"Eli Walker has impressed with his line breaks and work off the ball," he said.
"He seems to have the knack of turning up at the right place at the right time with his try-scoring ability."