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Roberts will not play full-back

Jamie Roberts
Gatland says Jamie Roberts can become one of the world's best centres

Wales coach Warren Gatland says he will not pick Jamie Roberts at full-back against New Zealand on 7 November.

Roberts rose through the ranks in the number 15 jersey, but has since successfully switched to centre for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.

Gatland simply answered "no" when asked if Roberts would be at full-back in Lee Byrne's absence through injury.

That leaves either Leigh Halfpenny or James Hook to play there against the All Blacks.

Gatland added: "When I first saw Jamie train, he had been playing on the wing for Cardiff, and I said to Rob Howley [Wales assistant coach] I thought he was a midfielder.

"He caused a huge amount of problems for the South Africans over in South Africa for the Lions, and I think potentially he could be one of the best centres in the world, going forward.

"I think he has found his spot. He is only going to get better as a 12 - the more he plays there, the more experience he gets.

"You can see him aged 25 or 26, with a number of caps under his belt, being one of the best players in the world."

606: DEBATE

Halfpenny, who made his Test debut as a 19-year-old wing against South Africa last November, could fill Byrne's vacancy.

And while the likes of former Wales full-back great JPR Williams have urged Gatland not to consider Hook as Byrne's direct replacement, he is an option who will also be assessed.

Gatland is due to announce his starting line-up on Monday for a game that will see Wales targeting their first victory over New Zealand since 1953.

"We've got some options at full-back with Leigh, and perhaps James Hook," Gatland added.

"We've been talking about someone like James, with the talent he has as a player, to find somewhere on the field for him to play.

"As a footballer, we all know what quality James brings to a game of rugby, and it maybe on these few occasions that we do play him at full-back.

"We are going to see how training goes."

Hook says he is ready and happy to take on the full-back role after Gatland name a squad without a specialist 15 among his 29 selections.

But Hook, who prefers fly-half but has also proved himself a classy centre, says he will play anywhere for Wales.

"As long as I'm playing I'm happy, I'd much rather be playing than sitting on the bench," Hook, 24, told BBC Sport.

"So if I do get the call to play full-back I'll be more than happy."

Roberts started his career at full-back, impressing at Under-21 level for Wales, but Gatland first capped him on the wing against Scotland in the 2008 RBS Six Nations.

Since then Roberts has moved to midfield and he was named the Lions' player of the series against South Africa.

"James Hook has played full-back, Stephen Jones has played full-back so I don't know what he's [Gatland] got up his sleeve," Williams said.

"Personally I would pick Jamie Roberts at full-back, because I think he's becoming a bit of a marked man in the centre and I think playing full-back would give him a bit more room.

"But we'll have to wait and see."

Hook himself says he is not sure if he has been pencilled in at full-back against New Zealand.

The crux of the New Zealand game will be the line-out, because they're [New Zealand] not doing so well in the line-out

Wales legend JPR Williams

"They [the Wales coaching staff] haven't given too much away really in the last couple of days," Hook admitted.

But if he does run out at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium wearing 15 on his back, Hook will do so in the confidence that the last time he did it for Wales - in South Africa in June 2008 - they pushed the Springboks all the way in Pretoria before losing 37-21.

"That's good, because they [South Africa] are probably the best team in the world at the moment and I've got a little bit of experience at full-back in that game," Hook said.

"I do enjoy getting the ball in space and the last three or four games for the Ospreys I've been doing that and hopefully I can take that confidence into the autumn games."

Whoever ends up playing his old position, Williams says it is vital that the Wales forwards target New Zealand weaknesses to give the backs the possession they need to upset the Kiwis.

"The crux of the New Zealand game will be the line-out, because they're [New Zealand] not doing so well in the line-out and we have to dominate that part of the game," Williams said.


Wales squad for autumn international series:

Backs: Dan Biggar James Hook, Shane Williams (Ospreys); Gareth Cooper, Jamie Roberts, Tom Shanklin, Tom James, Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Martin Roberts, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Davies, Mark Jones (Scarlets); Dwayne Peel (Sale).

Forwards: Paul James, Duncan Jones, Craig Mitchell, Huw Bennett, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Sam Warburton, Martyn Williams (Blues); Matthew Rees, Dafydd Jones (Scarlets); Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate (Dragons).



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