Rugby: Young Edinburgh hooker Alun Walker stakes a claim

Alun Walker
Alun Walker
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Fresh from scoring a first try for Edinburgh, 21-year-old hooker Alun Walker is hoping to further enhance his professional rugby CV this weekend.

By being included in the squad and getting on the pitch at Racing Metro on Friday, Walker would become the sixth Heineken European Cup rookie to be blooded this season by coach Michael Bradley, following on from Tom Brown, Grant Gilchrist, Jack Gilding, Harry Leonard and Matt Scott, the oldest of whom is 23 years old.

While the Capital team’s rotation policy makes a pecking order hard to determine – Lions Test hooker Ross Ford apart – there is little doubt that Walker is continuing to progress. In turning out against Ulster last Friday he made his fifth appearance of the season at league level and that is one more than he managed throughout 2010-11 when all came from off the bench then also.

If it is too much to anticipate a first start at least until the vastly experienced Ford takes his leave on account of Six Nations duties, then Walker would undoubtedly settle for taking his appearances tally into double figures at some stage on a night when there is so much for Edinburgh to play for in Paris.

As group leaders not only are Edinburgh in pole position to qualify for the knock-out stages but also handily placed for one of the three consolation prizes of a place in the second-tier Amlin Cup quarter-finals that go to the third, fourth and fifth best runners-up.

Not that Edinburgh will be thinking of compensations however appealing the prospect of any Euro action deep into the season might be. And Walker confirms this in proclaiming the 20-42 defeat by Ulster which featured his debut score to be nothing short of a wake-up call.

“We have no choice but to take on board what happened and move on,” he says. “Unfortunately we were not firing on all cylinders and we will do our analysis, as always. After that we get on with preparing to face Racing Metro.”

In putting the overall performance into the bad day at the office category – “everyone has bad days. It is now about re-grouping” – it was surely understandable that Walker could, nevertheless, savour his score which came from a 27-minute shift when building on the 46 minutes he played in the previous match away to Glasgow on New Year’s Day.

Almost predictably the touchdown came from sharp reactions in the loose as he recalled, saying: “In years to come I might be tempted to say I ran in the try from 50 metres but in truth it was much, much closer to the Ulster line than that.

“One of their throws didn’t find the jumper near the tail of a line-out and fortunately for me it was a straight bounce which I managed to gather before bumping off a defender and stretching out. Obviously my try is one of the memories I take forward along with a few carries even if my line-out work needs a bit of attention since there was one overthrow and a couple of technical errors to do with lifting requiring correction.

“But just to be in the squad watching from close range as Fordy (Ross Ford) goes about his business is a learning experience for a hooker like me and I’d love to help achieve the win over Metro that would really set up the last sectional match at home to London Irish where we’d surely be guaranteed a big crowd.”

Some have pointed to the fact that Edinburgh were on the receiving end of a penalty count which saw the Ulster side deemed to have transgressed seven times to their hosts’ 12 but Walker has no complaints.

“There were a lot of penalties but we can’t blame a ref who was strict for both sides.

“We are now just focusing on the Heineken Cup in the knowledge we have had a reminder of what is required, from an Ulster side who reached the quarter-finals last year.”

In fact, Ulster are currently heading a group that includes Leicester Tigers and Clermont Auvergne not that it eases the wounds felt in the Edinburgh squad. “At half time we were within a try and a conversion and the aim was to overturn that in the second half.

“Unfortunately, Ulster came out firing as well but that is in the past. Now it is about focusing on Racing Metro,” says a player who, if called upon, would be the 161st utilised by Edinburgh on European business.