Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady displays give struggling Wales reason for optimism
Wales’ fledgling midfield combination of Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins has been given a ringing endorsement as the Guinness Six Nations nears its conclusion.
The 20-year-old centres – Grady is 10 weeks older than his partner – have put down World Cup selection markers through encouraging displays during a Six Nations campaign that has often seen Wales struggle for highlights.
Defeats against Ireland, Scotland and England were at least followed by a morale-boosting away victory over Italy.
And, while life is not about to get any easier – an appointment with free-scoring France in Paris on Saturday – Grady and Hawkins are flourishing.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland names his line-up on Thursday to face Les Bleus, with both players in the frame to start a third successive game together, although Gatland will also undoubtedly consider the midfield merits of Nick Tompkins and George North.
Wales’ selected centres are set to feature opposite the revered French midfield pair of Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty after they caused England immeasurable grief in Les Bleus’ 53-10 triumph at Twickenham last weekend.
“I think they (Grady and Hawkins) have been brilliant,” Wales assistant coach and attack specialist Alex King said.
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“It is not easy, international rugby, and for two 20-year-olds to go in against England and then Italy, they have learnt a huge amount already.
“They are going to form the nucleus of a midfield for Wales going forward.
“Fickou and Danty are probably the best combination in the world at the moment. Both sides of the ball they are physical, skilful, fast and powerful.
“If you are a young player playing against them, it is great to be able to put a marker down to see where you are against world-class opposition.”
For King, Saturday’s encounter at Stade de France will be a case of friends reunited.
France team manager Raphael Ibanez is a former Wasps team-mate of King’s, while Les Bleus’ defence guru Shaun Edwards coached at Wasps when King was the fly-half.
“Obviously, Shaun is their defence coach, Raphael Ibanez I played with at Wasps, and Fabien Galthie (head coach) is one of the great thinkers in French rugby,” King added.
“It is all sort of coming to the boil at the right time, with a home World Cup just around the corner and probably the greatest French performance ever at Twickenham on Saturday.
“I played under Shaun when I was at Wasps. He is a great man, Shaun, he is very special to me in my life and my rugby career.
“It is funny how life pans out – I am (Wales) attack coach against his defence. We will see what happens on Saturday.
“Since the last World Cup, France have basically given time to the young generation of players.
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“The under-20s have been very successful at junior World Cups over the last four or five years. Those players have come through now and they are reaping the benefits.
“A lot of that team is in the mid-20s in terms of age and they have got 30-40 caps.
“We understand the challenge ahead, but I think the boys are going to rip into it, I really do.”