Dwayne Peel has received a ringing endorsement from his former Wales boss as he prepares for an unexpected entry to this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.
Less than a fortnight after Peel was overlooked for a place in Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s 28-man squad, he is back on the 6 Nations beat.
Gloucester scrum-half Gareth Cooper’s knee injury means 64 times-capped Peel should land a role in Wales’ tournament opener against Scotland at Murrayfield next Sunday.
Ospreys star Mike Phillips is firm favourite to make the starting line-up, with Peel providing bench cover. Gatland announces his team next Wednesday.
Mike Ruddock, Wales’ 2005 Grand Slam coach, watched Peel play a starring role for his club Sale Sharks as Ruddock’s Worcester team subsided 37-20 at Sixways.
“For me, Dwayne Peel has always been the number one scrum-half in Wales, and he has been for some time,” said Ruddock.
“His pace is exceptional, which causes no end of problems.”
And Sale rugby director Kingsley Jones added: “Dwayne only knew of his Wales call-up two hours before kick-off.
“I asked him if his head was right for the game, but he is the ultimate professional, so I knew there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Cooper, meanwhile, has been nursing a groin/pelvic problem, but is now also suffering from a knee complaint.
Cooper was one of the star performers during this season’s autumn Tests when Wales beat Australia, ran world champions South Africa close and led New Zealand at half-time.
And he might well have done enough to see off the challenge of Phillips, who missed the November games while he continued his recovery from a serious knee injury.
But Phillips now finds himself in pole position for a first Wales appearance since last season’s RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam-clinching victory over France in Cardiff.
Other concerns for Gatland are Scarlets wing Mark Jones and Ospreys back-row forward Jonathan Thomas.
Jones underwent appendix surgery earlier this month, and is not expected to be fit for the Scotland clash, which suggests a 6 Nations debut for 20-year-old Cardiff Blues prospect Leigh Halfpenny.
Thomas is suffering from a disc problem in his neck, meaning a probable bench slot for Scarlets’ Dafydd Jones, with Gatland set to parade his autumn back-row of skipper Ryan Jones, Martyn Williams and Andy Powell.