Davies improves comeback chances
11:52am Sunday 2nd February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Jonathan Davies remains on course for an earlier-than-expected Wales recall after starting his comeback from injury.
Davies played 40 minutes of the Scarlets' LV= Cup defeat against London Irish on Saturday - his first competitive action since tearing a pectoral muscle when Wales lost to South Africa three months ago.
Initial medical forecasts suggested the 25-year-old centre would not resume playing until late February or early March, but it is feasible that he might now be involved in next weekend's eagerly-awaited RBS 6 Nations appointment with Ireland.
Wales will head to Dublin on the back of an opening 23-15 victory over Italy, when a midfield combination of Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams impressed.
Roberts was arguably Wales' best player and Williams scored a first-half try, but British and Irish Lions Test star Davies will undoubtedly make a strong case for selection, given his world-class credentials. He has also scored three tries in four appearances against Ireland.
"It was always our intention to give him 40 or 50 minutes," Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby said, following Davies' return at the Madejski Stadium.
"It looked like he was fatiguing a little bit, but he was pretty happy with the work he got through.
"He has been out for such a long time so he is going to be a little bit rusty, but it was a good hit-out for him.
"It certainly wasn't a game where you could hold back. It was full-on, and they (Irish) were pretty physical.
"He was released back from the Welsh camp to us, so I would have thought he will go back into the Welsh camp on Monday.
"But whether he will be involved with the Wales team next weekend is down to him and down to our medical team and their medical team to see exactly where he is at in terms of his return to playing."
Beating Ireland - a feat they have managed three times in the last four meetings - is pivotal to Wales' hopes of landing an unprecedented Six Nations title hat-trick this season.
And preparations are unlikely to be spared the dredging up of last summer's Lions selection controversy, when Wales boss Warren Gatland - then Lions head coach - omitted Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll from his third Test team. The Lions won 41-16.
Gatland received vociferous criticism from many Irish rugby pundits and fans following his decision, and the Wales chief is still quizzed about it - much to his annoyance - seven months on.
"As far as I am concerned, that's dead and gone," he said.
"It's not about Brian and myself. Brian has moved on, I have moved on. It is about 46 players and two nations playing an international next weekend.
"The game is more important than myself and Brian and if people want to make an issue out of that for next week, to me it is just lazy journalism. Move on.
"It (the Ireland game) is a massive challenge for us. It is going to be a huge game for both teams.
"We have been champions for the last two years, so every team is going to be targeting their game against us and they will get up for it."