England in New Zealand 2014
O'Shea backs Ward to take England chance
Tom Hamilton
May 8, 2014
Dave Ward has impressed for Harlequins this season © Getty Images

Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea has backed hooker Dave Ward to make the step up to international rugby, describing him as "one of the best players I've come across in terms of skill level".

England's resources at hooker are depleted ahead of their tour to New Zealand with Dylan Hartley still making his comeback from injury, having last played in March, and Tom Youngs ruled out due to personal reasons. Third choice hooker Rob Webber was injured on Friday playing for Bath against Northampton and could miss the June tour while Hartley could be unavailable for the first Test against the All Blacks if his Saints side make the final of the Premiership.

The selection headache will lead Stuart Lancaster to look elsewhere for a hooker for that first Test and at present there are few playing better than Ward at Quins. If he was to get the call-up it would cap a remarkable couple of seasons for him as he was playing in the Championship for the Cornish Pirates just two years ago.

O'Shea brought him to Quins at the end of the 2011-12 season as an injury joker and with Joe Gray and Rob Buchanan both spending parts of the current campaign out injured, Ward has played 29 matches this season and picked up an array of Man of the Match awards alongside the Player of the Year gong and Players' Player of the Year at Quins.

"He's been outstanding for us," O'Shea told ESPN. "Rob Buchanan picked up a bad pectoral injury earlier this season and Joe Gray is on the comeback trail. When we looked for cover a couple of years ago, I spoke to Kevin Maggs at Moseley - you always consult people you trust when you're looking for a new player - and asked him what Ward's like to play against and he just went 'he's a great bloke and an unbelievable rugby player'.

England Saxons hooker Dave Ward poses for a photo, January 20, 2014
Dave Ward played for the Saxons earlier this year © Getty Images

"We met with Wardy and told him to come here. He's an outstanding rugby player and one of the best players I've come across in terms of skill level. It'll be great next season having him, Gray and Buchanan all fit and I'm sure they'll be knocking lumps out of each other to get in the team. But we're concentrating on winning this weekend and we'll see where it takes him from there. If England does happen for him, it would be a fairytale after the career he's had. It shows there are many different routes to the top and sometimes it comes through injuries."

Despite being aged 28, Ward's nomadic career has seen him play just 24 Premiership matches since his debut in 2005 for Bath, but O'Shea believes he has the temperament to step up to Test level rugby.

"He's been ready and waiting for Test rugby all his life. You never know if you're ready but you get your chance and you have to take it. I'm sure he'd just go out and relish it."

His sentiments were echoed by Ian Davies who was forwards coach at the Cornish Pirates when Ward arrived in 2009. "To be honest, Dave's the most talented player I've ever worked with," Davies, who is now head coach at the Pirates, told ESPN. "Every time he played, oppositions would make plans to try and stop Dave Ward, but he would invariably do what he had to do. Turning the ball over and on the ground in the mauls, I've never seen anyone like him.

"His handling ability is second to none. His mind just thinks so quickly, he's always trying to adapt and get better. We got the benefit of three wonderful years from him and everyone is now seeing what we knew, that he is a top class player."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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