LAST season’s Six Nations player of the tournament Dan Lydiate is well on course to play a part in this season’s campaign.
The Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales star has been out of action since breaking a bone above his left ankle four months ago.
And, although he wasn’t named in Rob Howley’s 35-man Six Nations squad yesterday, the Wales caretaker coach confirmed that he is likely to be called up.
Howley revealed that the blindside flanker’s rehabilitation is going well, but Lydiate, who is set to join Parisian aristocrats Racing Métro next season, will not feature in the opening two games against Ireland and France.
“Dan will hopefully play some part in the Six Nations – he’s ahead of schedule,” Howley said.
“We were mindful that those selected could play a part in our preparation for Ireland and France.
“The players not announced, the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Dan, Ashley Beck, will be available after the French game.”
The news that Lydiate, whose injury came in the opening minutes of the Dragons’ 32-12 home victory over Edinburgh in late September, could be back for Wales’ clash in Rome against Italy on Saturday, February 23, is a big boost.
It gives him a great chance of staking his claim for a Lions place on their summer tour of Australia.
Wales badly missed the back rower and his trademark big hit tackles during their autumn series whitewash.
There are five uncapped players in Howley’s squad – Dragons lock Andrew Coombs, Ospreys second row James King and wing Eli Walker, as well as Cardiff Blues back row pair Andries Pretorius and Josh Navidi.
Howley believes 20-year-old Walker, so impressive this season for the PRO12 champions, has what it takes to force himself into the Wales side ahead of last year’s Grand Slam-winning flyers George North and Alex Cuthbert.
“Eli absolutely poses a challenge to George and Alex – we have competition for places and that’s why he’s there,” he said.
“He was in our discussions during the autumn but we felt it better to stick with Harry Robinson on grounds of continuity. But Eli has proved us wrong – his performances over the Christmas period were very consistent, particularly in the Heineken Cup against Toulouse and Leicester. His work-rate and ability to work off his wing are what you want.”