He's sensational! Rocket man Eli earns Tandy praise
HE had the toughest act in world rugby to follow, but Eli Walker will face Ulster in Swansea tonight with Ospreys' head coach Steve Tandy giving him a pat on the back and declaring his form sensational.
At 20, the former Swansea player was faced with the task of filling the Puma V1 06 boots of Ospreys icon and legend, Shane Williams, after the diminutive flyer left to see out his playing days in Japan.
The size of the challenge that confronted Walker can barely be overstated.
It was akin to stepping into the No. 7 shirt at Manchester United after Cristiano Ronaldo, or being invited to lead Australia's spin attack post-Shane Warne.
But to his eternal credit, Walker has made a decent fist of the challenge, finishing joint-top try scorer at the region last season and starting this term with three touchdowns in the opening four games, including two against Edinburgh.
Pace is his key attribute. How quick is he? Well, there is fast, very fast and then there is Walker, a player who is up there with the quickest wings Welsh rugby has produced in the professional era.
"Eli is sensational," said Tandy.
"He has the X factor.
"He can beat defenders with his pace, finishes moves off and scores tries from nothing.
"Not long after the European games last season he had an injury but he has come back and is sharper with every game.
"It'll be an exciting prospect to see him in the Heineken cup this year. Against Leicester and Toulouse at home he was superb last term, but first we have Ulster to face on Friday night.
"It's up to us to put Eli into space, because if you give him a chance he'll take it."
It will be a good test for Walker this evening, up against Andrew Trimble, a strong-running player who has won 50 caps for Ireland.
Trimble comes back into the visitors' side after Tommy Bowe withdrew with a dead leg, wrecking the Lion's hopes of making a return to the Liberty.
The Ospreys are also pleased with the progress of Jeff Hassler, their Canadian international wing, who has chipped in with two tries himself this season.
But Ulster are a side the Welsh region rate highly. "They're a well-oiled outfit," said forwards coach Chris Gibbes.
"The challenge is to put in a good performance on our home turf against what is a pretty slick Ulster side."