Hook to set the record straight at World Cup

Wales star back James Hook wants to use th e2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand to settle the argument over where he should be played.

It is one of the great talking points of modern Welsh rugby: where do you play James Hook?

During the course of a 54-cap career Hook, whom just about everyone connected with rugby in Wales agrees is a talented ball-player, has appeared at outside-half, both centre positions and full-back.

There is no doubt the 26-year-old Hook regards himself as a fly-half, which in part explains why he has joined French club Perpignan from the Neath-Swansea Ospreys, where he has been deployed as a centre.

Hook has the guile and eye for a gap traditionally associated with Welsh No 10s while being no physical pushover and his first home international made a packed Millennium Stadium breathless with admiration as he came off the bench for the injured Stephen Jones to produce a man-of-the-match display in a thrilling 29-29 draw with Australia back in 2006.

But the endurance of the long-serving Jones has had the unfortunate side-effect of stunting Hook’s Test career.

A steadier, tactical fly-half of the kind that have been a mainstay of many an All Black side Jones has tended to be the go to No 10 of Wales’ Kiwi coach Warren Gatland, although former Wales boss Gareth Jenkins was a fan too.

That has left Wales facing the question of what to do about Hook, no mean goalkicker himself, hence his odyssey through the back division.

His last two matches have seen Hook first play at full-back, scoring the only try of a match in a 19-9 win against England with the kind of finish that has so often eluded many a recent English back before orchestrating a 28-13 victory over 2007 World Cup finalists Argentina from stand-off.

Gavin Henson’s recent World Cup-ending injury problems have paved the way for Hook to start at centre in New Zealand although there are plenty of Welsh fans who will tell you Gatland should have grasped the nettle some time back and made the Neath native his first-choice fly-half.

If Hook’s versatility has sometimes proved as much a curse as a blessing to his Test prospects he is, wisely, not letting on.

“I’ve had a few starts at full-back now,” Hook said. “It takes the breath away a bit with all the running and stuff, but other than that I feel comfortable there.

“And if Warren feels 12 is the position for me, so be it. I played the last couple of years with the Ospreys at 12.

“It’s not up to me to pick and choose. Whatever position I am called on to fill, I will try to fill it to the best of my ability.

“It’s important to me to play well for Wales, and I am hugely excited about the World Cup.”

Hook feels he has unfinished business at the World Cup having played at inside centre in the Wales side that were knocked out in the group stage four years ago in France following a sensational 38-34 defeat by Fiji in Nantes.

The loss cost Jenkins his job as Wales coach and Fiji will again provide one of the team’s pool opponents in New Zealand along with champions South Africa, Samoa and Namibia.

“The disappointment of that World Cup is still in the back of our minds,” said Hook. “We want to go to go out to New Zealand and prove to ourselves and the Wales fans we are a better team than we were in 2007.”

“South Africa have a massive pack that comes directly at you but we showed against England we can cope with that physicality.”

Wales chances of doing that against the Springboks would though surely be enhanced if Hook were given a position of influence.

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