Ken Owens: 'Cannonball' Ken on reaching 50 caps for Wales

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'Cannonball' Ken Owens on winning his 50th Wales cap

Ken Owens is not short of a nickname or two.

"Cannonball" Ken is also known as the "Sheriff" among his Scarlets team-mates, and has no objection to either.

But "super sub" was one the Wales hooker, who wins his 50th-cap against France in the Six Nations on Saturday, did not relish.

Owens, 30, has made 31 of his previous 49 Wales appearances from the bench.

During Wales' 2015 World Cup campaign, coach Warren Gatland repeatedly praised Owens' contribution in the latter part of matches while acknowledging the player was frustrated by his long run among the replacements.

That, however, has changed this season with Owens having started all of Wales' Six Nations matches and earned praise from pundits for the quality of his performances.

"You do get frustrated, but you can't let it drag you down," Owens says.

"You have got to keep plugging away, just keep trying to improve yourself.

"At the end of the day, it's much better to be involved in the 23 than not being involved at all, whether that be with your region or with Wales.

"I will always push myself to want to start, and thankfully I have had my opportunity now. I have got to keep playing well because there are plenty of hookers in Wales playing well."

A Lions call-up on the cards?

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Some experts, including former England number two Brian Moore, have been so impressed they have pencilled-in Owens as a British and Irish Lions tourist for this summer's trip to New Zealand.

Like the rest of the players, Owens sidesteps the Lions question but concedes he is more than happy with his form.

"I am pretty happy. The set-piece has gone well, and it is just nice to have a consistent run of games starting. I think that has helped me," he added.

"I work hard and try to take my chances when they come, and thankfully, I am playing okay at the moment.

"I am not doing a lot different to what I was doing before. Perhaps I am a lot more consistent at the moment."

A frustrating lay-off

Ken Owens
Ken Owens has made eight Pro12 appearances for Scarlets this season

Another factor in Owens' happiness is that he has had to come back from serious neck injuries which have seen him undergo two operations and miss a good deal of rugby.

He says his latest lay-off, which sidelined him for four months in 2014, was particularly frustrating.

"Initially, I thought I would be out for six to eight weeks," he said.

"The neck wasn't really the problem, it was nerve damage because it was my second big impact on that part of the nerves.

"It just took forever for it to regenerate, and it is only really now that my strength is anywhere near where it should be.

"It was my third neck injury but thankfully, touch wood, there were no issues and I managed to get through it.

"I always thought I would get back, it was just a case of how long it would take for the nerves to regenerate."

An 'over the top' celebration

Ken Owens
Ken Owens made his Wales debut against Namibia in September 2011

Owens has shown nerves of steel at the line-outs this season, with Wales' set-piece operating as an effective attacking tool - particularly in the 22-9 win over Ireland.

That match also saw Owens become a social media sensation thanks to his full-blooded celebration caught on camera when Jamie Roberts scored the match-clinching try.

"Maybe I went a bit over the top," he says.

"That score was huge. The game was won, and we knew how important the victory was to us as a squad."

Owens already has reason to celebrate in Paris as he reached a significant milestone.

A sixth successive win against France and would give him reason to reprise his bellowing, fist-pumping celebration.

That would be a significant notch on the Sheriff's badge.

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