By Alan Dymock
THE ISSUE with Wales we used to hear most about was that they had the depth of a sawn-off shot glass. However, while this is still true in some positions, there are others where they have an abundance of talent.
So when James Hook has the audacity to play consistently brilliantly for Perpignan it is nothing more than a bloody inconvenience for everyone.
Hook has been picked for Wales’ November Tests 35-man squad alongside some other form players. Rhys Priestland is playing incredibly well for the Scarlets in Europe and is leading the scoring in the Heineken and Dan Biggar, a man famed for knowing what he wants, has stormed to the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 scoring charts. So with those two doing their own thing and with Leigh Halfpenny being both adorable and perpetually impressive at full-back not only can a rather miffed Lee Byrne not crowbar his way into contention, but one of the Top 14’s best performers so far this term has earned selection but probably not enough Gatland credits or Howley clubcard points to win a starting spot for Wales first November Test against South Africa.
Gatland is not the type to pick players from France just because some of his favourite players like Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and a rather naughty Mike Phillips are there – with this evidenced by the fact Byrne is conspicuous by his absence – and Hook has earned his place with repeatedly strong performances at both fly-half and full-back.
In this instance, then, an old cliché will be handy for Gatland to tell him self risk is not worth it. Hook is always going to add strength to a bench when added – like popping mints in your mouthwash – but he is not a necessity because, we have been told time and time again, he is a victim of his own versatility. He wouldn’t let anyone down but he may be too much of a square peg to take a real risk on; the kind you see printed in the middle of a match programme on a grand international day.
That being said, if Warren was feeling really wacky, with no Alex Cuthbert, a green Eli Walker involved and a gap in the centres beside Jonathan Davies who can play both inside and outside and we all suspend our imagination and pretend Scott Williams isn’t playing very well beside Davies for the Scarlets then it could be stretched that Hook could be played at centre or on the wing. Potentially a waste, but after having to wait two years since he last started for Wales Hook may take anything.
The poor fella should probably take a swim around in the shallow end of the pool.