Rugby Union: Walker's pace puts him in the running: Robert Cole surveys the weekend's Welsh League matches and finds a high hurdler in line for a cap

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THIS time last year Nigel Walker was dreaming of running in a second Olympic Games. A year on his sporting sights are firmly fixed on winning a Welsh rugby cap.

Although he failed to make the British trio for the 110 metres hurdles in Barcelona this summer, his high-speed try hat-trick in Cardiff's 39-14 win over Newbridge proved he has the raw ability to meet his latest sporting deadline.

The Welsh selectors will announce their squads for the forthcoming Wales XV and Wales B fixtures against Italy and the North of England and, after a mere three outings with his home town club, Walker is all set for a national call-up.

In an age when rugby coaches are desperately trying to turn their players into more proficient athletes, it is only natural that a one-time world-class athlete should be able to make the grade on the rugby field.

Not that Walker, who represented Wales and Britain at all the major athletics championships and earned bronze medals at the World and European Indoor Championships in 1987, is a complete novice. A decade ago he was good enough to have trials with the Welsh Schools as a wing before turning his attentions exclusively to athletics.

What he has proved since he began to turn back the sporting clock last month is that he has the raw material to become a very good player. Just how good will be revealed this week when the national squads are announced.

Wales are crying out for a left wing, and every team is looking for a 10.35sec 100m runner who can catch and tackle like Walker, so a rapid elevation into the big time should not be ruled out.

Neither should a return to the Welsh ranks for the Llanelli outside-half Colin Stephens be dismissed. Ousted from the coveted No 10 jersey by Neil Jenkins for the second half of last season, the twinkle-toed Scarlet has been making the most of Jenkins' suspension in the opening month of the season.

With the Welsh coach, Alan Davies, looking on, Stephens turned in a virtuoso performance as Llanelli surpassed themselves, and nearly all previous Heineken League records, to beat Newport 79-10. It was an astonishing result against a world renowned club said to be in the throes of major recovery.

There was little evidence of that as they conceded 11 tries, three of them to Stephens. Ieuan Evans also claimed a hat-trick, while the outside-half went on to kick a record nine conversions and claim a club and league record 39 points for the match.

Newport's previous worst defeat had been the 58-6 beating handed to them by the Scarlets three years ago, although they did concede 60 points against the Barbarians in 1973. This, though, was something else.

Not that it will have put the frighteners on every team in the First Division. Cardiff and Neath remain undefeated after three outings, as do the reigning champions Swansea.

They ran in 11 tries in their 73-24 defeat of South Wales Police, last season's Second Division champions, in their warm-up to Saturday's top-of-the-table clash with Llanelli at Stradey Park. That, too, is likely to be a record- breaking occasion with a capacity 14,000 crowd expected to witness a clash of the titans.

Cardiff: Tries Walker 3, Rayer, Davies; Conversions Davies 4; Penalties Davies 2.

Newbridge: Tries Fealey 2; Conversions Hayward 2.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Hill, M Ring, M Hall (capt), N Walker; A Davies, A Booth; K Matthews, J Humphries, P Sedgemore, A Rees, S Roy, P Kawulok, O Williams, H Taylor.

Newbridge: D Rees (capt); A Harries (A Griffiths, 64), M Egan, B Hayward, D Manley; P Williams, S Fealey; J Rowlands, K Waters (M Wysocki, 71), B Fisher, G Taylor, T Shaw, S Griffiths, P Pook, P Crane.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).

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