Rugby: Walker aiming to build on cameo roles

As he waits patiently for a first start in Edinburgh Rugby colours, 21-year-old hooker Alun Walker is urging the squad to carry on where they left off in beating Munster at home when Scarlets are confronted in Llanelli tomorrow.

By Bill Lothian
Thursday, 6th October 2011, 4:40 pm

And, if anybody should know what is required to nail down a Rabo Direct Pro 12 League win, it is surely Walker who, despite his relative inexperience, showed the maturity of a veteran to ensure there was no late escape for a Munster team eventually beaten 29-14 last Friday night.

Maturity and perhaps a bit of intrinsic nous from the man who was making his sixth substitute appearance at hooker, but who started his career as a stand-off at youth level, was aptly displayed when, receiving the ball on halfway with the clock ticking down, he looked up and spotted a gap in behind the twice European champions’ defence.

“It is unorthodox, I know, for a hooker to kick possession away but I did what I felt had to be done,” said Walker. “After getting the ball the first thing that went through my head was to put it in the corner and try to close the game out.”

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With a wry grin he went on: “Momentarily a feeling of panic crept over me that I’d given the ball away in looking to pin them back in their own half but I’d seen hookers like Ireland’s Keith Wood, who was playing up until recently, kick the ball from hand.

“Fortunately things turned out well and I got a bit of praise back in the dressing-room afterwards.

“Besides, I was once a stand-off and a point of transition into the pro environment is keeping a cool head and knowing what to do at a given time. Hopefully, I passed that test.”

His 11 minutes against Munster followed a seven-minute spell of replacement duty the previous week at Aironi as Walker launched his seasonal campaign with Edinburgh. And, while he only made four appearances off the bench for Edinburgh last season, bear in mind that Musselburgh-reared Walker only started back in February following shoulder surgery.

All of which means that, while the management at Edinburgh may have changed, he remains well thought of and is keen to push harder for a regular role in a position where competition can only intensify once British and Irish Lion Ross Ford returns from World Cup duty.

With that in mind Walker, an unused substitute at Scarlets last season as he was when Edinburgh travelled to Munster – making his contribution to last Friday’s win all the sweeter – has targets and a clear route map. “I know things are going to get tougher at hooker where Ross is due back, Steve Lawrie is currently starting and has brought great ideas from his previous English Championship club (Doncaster) and Andy Kelly has so much experience (149 Edinburgh appearances).

“Each in their own way is different and successful but I want to challenge and that was part of my thinking in linking up with Melrose over the summer.”

An elite development signing, he was able to switch from Currie when club rugby opportunities arose following discussions with his performance director, Bryan Easson, as well as the respective coaches, Ally Donaldson and Craig Chalmers.

“I feel the style of rugby at Melrose is closer to Edinburgh’s and will raise my play when I go there. Also, Melrose have ex-pros in the pack such as John Dalziel and Wayne Mitchell who, as a hooker, played for Border Reivers, and he is someone I can also learn from.

“After shoulder surgery I was worried that my career was in the balance but the coaches at Currie were among those who gave me my shot, kept faith with me, and that was very much appreciated.

“Also, when I signed for Edinburgh there were a couple of Currie boys there which helped me settle.

“Matt Scott also came to Edinburgh from Currie and it has been great to see him progress the way he has and hopefully I can do something similar. I’ve deferred a Sports Science degree for six months to tie in with my rugby time table but I’ll definitely go back having learned how easily your rugby career can be disrupted through having the shoulder problem, now happily cleared.

“As a consequence of that, too, I’m treating my body with more respect and hopefully I’m a better player for that ready to stake a claim for another milestone which would be an opportunity in the Heineken European Cup.

“The first objective is making the squad that will be registered for the competition but next up are Scarlets.

“It was a fantastic feeling to come off with the points after Munster although we were absolutely knackered and getting that time at the end was a highlight of the past two seasons for me.

“Hopefully it is also a stepping stone.”