Rugby Union: Wales look to Hook to reel in French

12th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

James Hook has won the race to play in the pivotal position of outside-half as Wales attempt to complete a Six Nations Grand Slam.

   CARDIFF, March 12, 2008  - James Hook has won the race to play in the
pivotal position of outside-half as Wales attempt to complete a Six Nations
Grand Slam at home to France here on Saturday.
   Stephen Jones started at stand-off in Wales's last two wins, over Italy and
Ireland, after Hook had been the man running out at 10 in the victories
against England and Scotland.
   Now new Wales coach Warren Gatland has opted for Hook, whose creative
talents could shine against a France side that have shown a fondness for
attacking rugby under their new boss, Marc Lievremont.
   "We have a historic opportunity and we intend to grasp it with both hands,"
said New Zealander Gatland, one victory away from steering his adopted country
to a Grand Slam in his first season in charge.
   "Just like every game, we have looked at the 10 situation and who would do
the best job for the game. We have afforded ourselves the luxury of bringing
in James Hook.
   "We have spoken to the players and we feel that, against France, James
gives us slightly more attacking options.
   "It is no consolation to Stephen but coming off the bench he gives us that
maturity and experience in being able to change a game if we need to, or close
it down," the former Ireland, Wasps and Waikato coach explained.
   "We have used both players in every game except England and I see that
happening again on Saturday."
   Gatland added it had been a desperately close call between the two
fly-halves before he opted for the younger man, more of a 'flair' player than
the steadier Jones.
   "It was an agonising decision to make. I have a huge amount of respect for
Stephen as a person and I am sure his experience will add to us this week."
   The only other change to the starting side that beat Ireland 16-12 in
Dublin last Saturday to clinch the Triple Crown saw hooker Huw Bennett return
after missing the Croke Park triumph with 'flu.
   Scrum-half Mike Phillips, who pulled off a try-saving tackle on Ireland
wing Shane Horgan, retained his place despite receiving a yellow card for
kneeing prop Marcus Horan in the back.
   In the end, Wales coped well while Phillips spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin
but Gatland said: "If the result had been different perhaps it could cost him
his place.
   "I hope there has been a lesson in it because I have told Mike he can be
the biggest, most physical, imposing scrum-half in world rugby."
   Wales's 1st XV this weekend will feature nine players involved in the 2005
Grand Slam season.
   "They (the players) have not spoken about 2005 but it is a bonus that they
know what the week is like," said Gatland.
   Wales can afford to lose by 19 points on Saturday and still win the
Championship title but Gatland, who took over after Gareth Jenkins was sacked
following the team's first round exit at last year's World Cup, has his sights
set on a bigger prize.
   "To win on points difference would be something of a hollow victory," he
said. "We have already achieved something in this campaign that can't be taken
away from us with the Triple Crown, but we have an opportunity now to push on
and do something a little bit special in front of our home crowd."
   France have won their last six matches at the Millennium Stadium, including
the World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand.
   "We have momentum, which is what this tournament is all about, but you can
never underestimate the French," Gatland warned.


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