Rugby - Walker keen to make mark for Wales

South Africa could be left with a distinct feeling of deja vu if Wales newcomer Eli Walker makes his mark against them on Saturday.

PA Sport
Rugby - Walker keen to make mark for Wales
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Wales newcomer Eli Walker will be looking to make his mark against South Africa.

It is three years ago this month that Wales unleashed a raw, but richly-talented teenage wing on the Springboks in Cardiff.

George North highlighted his international debut that day by scoring two tries. He has subsequently featured more than 30 times for Wales and become a victorious British and Irish Lions Test player.

Walker, who is just 16 days older than North, now lands his eagerly-awaited opportunity on the big stage after being handed a first Wales appearance against South Africa this weekend.

A prolific try-scorer for the Ospreys, there is a similar degree of anticipation surrounding 21-year-old Walker's Test debut to that which accompanied North's in 2010.

Swansea-born Walker has had to bide his time after being laid low by a back complaint during last season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

He had been named in Wales' Six Nations squad and then missed out on Wales' two-Test summer tour of Japan, but he is now raring to go.

"I worked very hard with the conditioners to get back for the beginning of this season and I am enjoying every moment of it," he said.

"It all started with my hamstrings last season. I was rehabbing them and I came back into my first training session and pulled my hamstring again.

"I then had a scan on my back and found out that I had a bulged disc, which could have been related to my hamstrings. I had a small operation - they shaved a bit of the disc because it was pressing against the nerve that runs down your leg - and everything is fine now."

Some of Walker's performances for the Ospreys - notably Heineken Cup games against Leicester and Toulouse last season - were box-office material of the kind associated with North and Wales' record try poacher Shane Williams.

And there is no great surprise that Walker holds both players in high esteem.

"Myself and George played together at under-16 level, then 18s together, but then he skipped 20s and went straight into the seniors," Walker added.

"He is a phenomenal player and to be there training with these guys is great.

"Shane was probably the one I looked up to when I was coming through the academy system at the Ospreys. He was there then and as soon as I took my first step into senior rugby, he was there as well.

"He helped me settle with the Ospreys. It was a close relationship. He was probably the biggest influence on me rugby-wise.

"As a finisher, I back myself against anyone on the pitch to be honest. I've just got to get my head down this week, work hard and look forward to the weekend.

"The senior guys around me in the squad have been great, saying it is about enjoying and relishing the moment because it goes pretty quickly. Obviously, you will be nervous at times, like you are in any rugby game, but it is about enjoying the occasion.

"It was always going to be rugby or football for me. When you get to the age of 13 or 14 you've got to pick which one it is going to be, and rugby was definitely the sport I wanted to take up."

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