Wales terroriser must now grab chance after seven years of waiting and mystery

Keelan Giles of the Ospreys
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)

Keelan Giles has been here before, albeit quite a while ago.

The Ospreys wing has done the whole summer tour thing with Wales in 2016 and 2017. The former saw him plucked from the U20s to travel to New Zealand eight years ago, while the latter involved him heading to Samoa.

However, after nearly a decade of overcoming injuries and re-establishing himself after his initial breakthrough, the hope for Giles will be that this latest tour he's about to set off on differs somewhat.

Neither of those initial tours brought Giles a cap. Nor did the autumn campaign in 2016, when Giles was frustratingly left on the bench against Japan.

Back then, it seemed merely a matter of time before a Welsh appearance would come. But this sport is rarely that generous.

The call-up for Giles, first and foremost, is a testament to the hard work the 26-year-old has put in over the years to rediscover the early form of his career - overcoming serious injuries on the way to getting back to terrorising defences and troubling scorers.

"I'm delighted for him," said Ospreys head coach Toby Booth. "It's a good reflection on how our game has expanded from an attacking side because he's on the scoresheet a lot.

"He has great ability to beat people one-on-one, he's a special athlete in that respect. Delighted for him and the work he's been through."

SIGN UP: Get the new exclusive Inside Welsh rugby newsletter for full insight into what's really going on around all the big issues. This special offer will get you full access for the entire year for just £10 instead of £40.

That ability to beat players one-on-one is perhaps what makes his selection so exciting. Giles has crossed for nine tries in 17 matches this season, his best return since that breakthrough 2016/17 campaign, and his finishing prowess is undoubtedly strong.

Whether it was the try from nothing against Sale, the two scores against Cardiff on a drenched Brewery Field surface or the remarkable finish against the Bulls in the corner, the theme is a recurring one; get Giles a bit of space around the edge and he's got the pace and prowess to finish.

But his ability to consistently trouble defences early in phase play has been equally impressive. So often this year, the Ospreys have used him as a first or second receiver in midfield, having him work off his wing.

His footwork and ability to break to the outside shoulder of a defender allows them to get on the front foot when targeting front-five forwards. He's also got a decent skillset, with his team-mates occasionally having run loop lines outside Giles as the wing steps back inside - backing him to give the no-look pass.

In the win over the Stormers in Cape Town, both Owen Watkin and Max Nagy were put into space by Giles doing exactly that.

All these are things Giles can use to establish himself on the Test scene. Certainly, Wales have struggled to generate go-forward at times since Warren Gatland returned to the role, with the Wales coach occasionally going back to his well-trodden ideal of wingers doing the carrying early on in phase play.

Last year's Six Nations saw Rio Dyer picking-and-going from the first breakdown after a lineout, while both he and Josh Adams have been called upon to truck it up. Giles' footwork could well be another way to manipulate the gainline.

Of course, Giles isn't the only wing in the squad. With Adams having a summer off, there's Dyer, Josh Hathaway and potentially Liam Williams. Dyer and Williams would bring the aerial ability that is seen as key for Test wingers these days, while Hathaway is certainly seen as one for the future - even if his own aerial game isn't as good as others.

But, Giles knows only too well that he won't be guaranteed a cap on this tour - even with three Tests and a further match against the Queensland Reds. In 2017, 12 uncapped players, including Giles, toured. The other 11 all came back with a cap.

The insistence of Gatland to shoehorn another unavailable winger into an answer about Giles earlier in the week doesn't exactly bode too well.

"For Keelan, he has been consistent with the Ospreys and he is an experienced player now," said Gatland on Monday. "It was unfortunate that Theo Cabango got injured at the weekend because he was another option for us on the wing.

"That hamstring ruled him out of potentially being selected."

It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest he would have been ahead of Giles in the pecking order, based on those comments. But, so long after last being within touching distance of an elusive cap, Giles is there on merit - regardless of injuries to anyone else.

The delightfully balanced runner will know that opportunities will be difficult to earn in the coming weeks, particularly if Giles and the Ospreys do well in the URC playoffs - which would rob him of a chance against the Springboks.

Of course, if you offered him the choice, you'd imagine Giles would take a crack at silverware all day long. All he can do is, when he's with Wales, take every opportunity afforded to him. You'd hope that would be enough this time around.

Back in 2017, the lack of a cap brought about confusion. When asked about Giles' absence from the Test team, the head coach for that tour, Robin McBryde said, "I can't answer that now. That's something else, that is."

So, a bit of a mystery. But, nearly a decade on, Giles will know exactly what he has to do.

He's been here before. This time, though, he'll be hoping for a different outcome.