France vs Wales: Ken Owens is playing well enough to be a Lions hooker, insists Rob Howley

James Corrigan
Ken Owens has been one of Wales' star players - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.

Whatever else Wales can boast from this Six Nations, the camp clearly believes it has unearthed the British and Irish Lions hooker.

While England and Ireland will both be captained by players wearing the No 2 shirt in Dublin on Saturday, Rob Howley thinks that Ken Owens - who wins his 50th cap in Paris - has most convincingly stated his case.

Dylan Hartley and Rory Best were the overwhelming favourites at the start of the Championship, with Owens a huge outsider. But the Scarlet with the nickname “Cannonball Ken” has exploded his way into the reckoning with a succession of eye-catching performances, both with his dynamic ball-carrying and his error-free throwing into the line-out.

Ken Owens in action against Ireland Credit: GETTY IMAGES

"Ken is playing well, isn't he?" Howley said. "He’s been outstanding and has certainly put his hand up for the end of the season tours. He gives players confidence around him and is a great senior player with experience. He has a great opportunity [to make the Lions]. He just needs to concentrates on his process and what he needs to do against France.”

Alun Wyn Jones, the second rower who is fancied to be Warren Gatland’s captain in New Zealand, added his praise for the late-developing 30 year-old. “Ken’s growth has been immeasurable over the past 18 months,” he said.

Owens’s contribution in Paris could once again be crucial for Wales as they try for a sixth-successive victory over France. Howley emphasised the importance of this final match, as not only could Wales finish second in the Championship, but if Ireland were to lose, they could rise to fourth in the world rankings, just in time for the draw for the 2019 World Cup draw in May.

Rugby world rankings

“That is a large incentive for the players and coaches,” Howley said.

Guy Noves has made just one change to the XV which beat Italy 40-18 in Rome, bringing in 6ft 8in, 20st lock Sebastien Vahaamahina for Julien Le Devede.

Teams

Wales XV: L Halfpenny (Toulon); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), L Williams (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); R Evans (Scarlets), K Owens (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter), J Ball (Scarlets), A W Jones (Ospreys, capt), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), J Tipuric (Ospreys), R Moriarty (Gloucester).

Replacements: S Baldwin (Ospreys), N Smith (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), L Charteris (Bath), T Faletau (Bath), G Davies (Scarlets), S Davies (Ospreys), J Roberts (Harlequins).

 

France XV: Dulin; Nakaitaci, Lamerat, Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez, Serin; Picamoles, Gourdon, Sanconnie, Maestri, Vahaamahina, Slimani, Guirado (capt), Baille.

Replacements: Chat, Atonio, Ben Arous, Le Devedec, Chouly, Trinh-Duc, Dupont, Huget.

Six Nations 2017 fixtures, dates, kick-off times and TV schedule

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