FORMER Worcester Warriors ace Ben Howard believes Chris Pennell can maintain his stranglehold on the number 15 jersey next season despite the arrival of Melani Nanai.

Howard spent many years as Pennell’s understudy at Warriors and knows the Sixways stalwart will refuse to “give an inch” to anyone threatening his position in the side.

Nanai was a star performer for Blues this season with his speed and agility seeing him rack up 1,240 metres, more than any other player in Super Rugby.

The 25-year-old, who was also second in the league’s top carries charts with 178 and joint third off-loader with 22, is due to arrive at Warriors following the conclusion of the Mitre10 Cup in late October.

But Howard reckons the “incredibly-competitive” Pennell’s reliability under the high ball will give him the edge over Nanai in the Gallagher Premiership.

He also thinks Nanai’s skillset might be better suited on the wing with Bryce Heem and Josh Adams departing this summer.

“The Premiership is very different league to Super Rugby,” Howard said.

“It’s not as open so what you need from a full-back is taking those high balls on a wet Friday night or Saturday in the winter.

“If teams are employing those tactics there is nobody better than Penns to be under the ball.

“Likewise, you have got to have a strong kicking game at 15 in the Premiership.

“With guys like Bryce and Joshy leaving it could be a case that Melani could get moved out onto the wing and Penns keeps his berth at full-back.

“Chris has had plenty of competition like Errie Claassens before me and there was an argument to keep Josh Adams at 15 as he was doing a hell of a job at the time.

“The thing about Chris is that although he is a very nice guy he is also incredibly competitive and doesn’t give an inch to anybody who is threatening his position.

“I know he will be striving to improve and I am confident he will be in and around it for a little while yet.”

Howard, 26, made 64 appearances for Warriors between 2012 and 2015 but struggled to hold down his place in the side with Pennell, 32, often given the nod.

“Ultimately I dropped quite a few high balls, shanked quite a few kicks and missed quite a few tackles whereas you could always rely on Chris to do everything incredibly well,” Howard said.

“He also can have those moments of magic. I will never forget that offload out of the back of the hand to (David) Lemi to score against London Irish in the year we got relegated.

“Chris is an incredibly gifted guy in any sport, especially rugby.

“It was maybe unfortunate that I was competing with somebody like Chris but I learned a lot from him.”

Pennell, who has played more than 200 games for Warriors, signed a new two-year deal in January.

“What he has given the club and his level of consistency over the years is a testament to him as a person,” Howard added.

“He is always striving to get better.”