Jonah Holmes has the X-factor to light up Wales’ attack against Italy on Saturday, according to two-time Grand Slam winner Tom Shanklin.
The winger is set for his Guinness Six Nations debut in Rome after being given the nod on the right wing in place of the rested George North, as Warren Gatland looks to keep his squad fresh throughout the Championship.
Holmes has caught the eye for Leicester Tigers in Premiership Rugby this season and made his international debut at Principality Stadium against Tonga in November.
And Shanklin, a veteran of 70 caps, believes the 26-year-old has all the tools to unlock Italy’s defence.
“He has been playing superbly at Leicester and the good thing about having someone like him around is that no-one knows a lot about him, so he will be hard for the opposition to analyse,” he said.
“I think that is good because no-one will be sure what to expect. I think he has the X-factor and I really hope now he goes on to deliver internationally.
“I am really excited about Wales. The likes of Josh Navidi has shown he can play at Test level. Ellis Jenkins, who I know is injured, is also excellent and Aaron Wainwright is a one to watch.”
Wales arrive in Rome buoyed after their record comeback against France in Round One and know that victory against Conor O’Shea’s will set them up for a humdinger against England in Round Three.
With Ireland and England, who have shared the last five Championships, meeting in Round One, the attention shifted away from Wales in the build-up.
But Shanklin insists that is exactly when they thrive.
“Nobody really spoke about Wales going into the Championship. Then, all of a sudden, they could get two wins and the ball starts rolling and confidence is flowing,” he added.
“I agree with what Warren said. He said beforehand that if they beat France, then they can go on and win the Guinness Six Nations.
“Italy is next, which will be hard but I back Wales to come through. England then come to Cardiff and then Ireland after that, so the two biggest games, for me, are taking place in Cardiff.
“What happens in them is anyone’s guess but they will be crackers.”