The Phil Bennett Column – Keelan Giles Is 80 Minutes From Wales Debut

Dai Sport columnist Phil Bennett played with two of the greatest Welsh wings – Gerald Davies and JJ Williams. He says Keelan Giles has the ability to stand in their company, but he must prove he is ready in his back yard first.


Keelan Giles has scored eight tries in five games for the Ospreys. Pic: Getty Images.
Keelan Giles has scored eight tries in five games for the Ospreys. Pic: Getty Images.

Keelan Giles could be one good performance away from being picked by Wales for the start of the Six Nations.

I’d be happy with that. The boy deserves it and in my view he is the most exciting young talent around in Welsh rugby at present.

But there’s more for him to prove before Rob Howley should think about picking him for that opening match of the tournament against Italy in Rome on February 5.

I think Keelan needs to play in a big domestic match, with lots of eyes and the TV cameras on him, with pressure and expectation after all the hype – and come through that examination before we can think he is ready to play on the wing for Wales.

That game should be the derby between the Ospreys and the Scarlets at what will be a packed Liberty Stadium on December 27.

If Keelan can come through that test, up against Steffan Evans or DTH van der Merwe, with his defence tested and his positional game under scrutiny, then we can think about capping him.

But we don’t even know if Ospreys coach Steve Tandy will pick him for that game.

Some people have claimed Tandy has been downbeat and low key about Giles and his talent. Good for Steve, I reckon.

He’s been absolutely right to leave all the hype to others and stress Keelan’s rawness, his lack of experience, his lack of exposure to big matches in difficult circumstances.

It’s one thing running in incredible tries against Grenoble – and it was incredible, an astonishing burst of acceleration that hints at how devastating he might be – but it’s quite another to do it against a team that might actually be motivated, organised, and intent on exploiting his lack of nous.

A team like Italy, in Rome, perhaps, and certainly England in Cardiff the week after.

If Howley is going to throw Keelan into that kind of cauldron, then the least we must know is that he came through a feisty festive derby against the Scarlets.

Tandy has been right to dampen down the hype and I’ll give your five words to underline why – Tom James and Alex Cuthbert.

There was a lot of talk of Tom’s burgeoning prowess as a runner and finisher a few years ago before the 2007 World Cup. He was 20, two years older than Giles is now.

Tom was capped against England at Twickenham in a warm-up for the World Cup and got shredded that day by a gleeful Jason Robinson. He did well to ever come back from that.

Cuthbert went the other way. He had a promising debut against Australia in 2011 and then quickly became a Grand Slam winner with Wales a few months later.

But the rise was followed by the fall and Alex is now struggling to recapture the instinctive finishing-power he showed a few seasons ago. He’s also had problems with the stick he has taken from the idiots with busy thumbs, but slower brains, on Twitter.

So, young wings have to be carefully handled. They are like goalkeepers. Their frailties are exposed in wide open spaces and there is no hiding place.

Giles has bags of natural talent. He is much more than an elusive runner. He has a genuine ability to think his way to the try-line and he senses gaps on the field in the same way Shane Williams used to do.

For me, he is a very realistic selection option for Wales ahead of the Six Nations because of the continuing doubts over George North’s fitness, the injuries Hallam Amos has suffered, and the question marks against the confidence levels shown by Cuthbert.

Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams are certainties for the full-back and one wing place, but that leaves another vacancy on the flank up for grabs.

Giles has the ability to take that place, I’ve no doubt.

But I want to see the Ospreys believe in him by picking him to start a high pressure local derby – and I then want to see him come through that dress rehearsal before we put him on the international stage.


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