Six Nations: Alex Cuthbert ready for first Wales start, says Rob Jones

Alex Cuthbert
Alex Cuthbert has scored nine tries for Cardiff Blues this season

Rookie Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert should start for Wales in Sunday's Six Nations opener against Ireland, according to former captain Rob Jones.

Wales need a replacement on the left flank for Shane Williams, who retired from international duty in December.

Cuthbert has only 11 minutes experience of Test rugby, but Jones feels the 21-year-old has the talent to thrive.

"He's raw as a rugby player but he's big, he's strong and a good finisher," said former Wales scrum-half Jones.

"Alongside George North he would be the winger I would select because I would go for Leigh Halfpenny at full-back ahead of Lee Byrne."

Cuthbert enhanced his claims for a first Wales start with two instinctive finishes in the Blues' crucial Heineken Cup win over Racing Metro.

Blues coach Gareth Baber hailed the performance as an example of "sensational" attacking wing play, but the ringing endorsement came with a plea for patience from Wales.

Throw him into the fervent atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium On Sunday, warned Baber, and the youngster could succumb to a mistake or two.

With an imposing 6ft 6in frame, Cuthbert is poles apart from the diminutive, fleet-footed Williams, Wales' record try scorer, but Jones feels the youngster is the best available option.

"He's the player performing best in terms of wing play within the regional game at the moment," the former British and Irish Lions scrum-half told BBC Wales' Scrum V show.

"Alongside George North, he would form a formidable, big and physical wing combination."

With injuries troubling Dan Lydiate, Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts, Wales have delayed naming their side to face Ireland for 48 hours until Friday.

All three are certain to start if fit and coach Warren Gatland has identified fly-half Priestland in particular as a key component in Wales' desired style of play.

Jones fears only Lydiate and Roberts will recover in time to face the Irish, opening the door for James Hook to have another shot at the fly-half role in Priestland's absence.

"The realistic feeling from what I can gather is that Priestland might miss this one but should be fit for the Scotland game," said Jones.

"But a week is a long time in rugby and there's a lot of work the medical staff will be putting in.

"And if there's any chance of Rhys Priestland proving his fitness and getting on the field for this first and very important game I think Warren Gatland will make sure that will happen."

Wales Six Nations training squad:

Backs: Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Gavin Henson (Cardiff Blues), Ashley Beck (Ospreys), George North (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Harry Robinson (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne)

Forwards: Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Ospreys), Rhys Gill (Saracens), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Lou Reed (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Warburton (capt, Cardiff Blues), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks)