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Coach Warren Gatland pleas for Wales centre patience

Wales coach Warren Gatland explains his James Hook dilemma

Warren Gatland has warned that Wales' new Six Nations centre partnership may take another 12 months to gel.

James Hook joined Jamie Roberts in the centre for this campaign as Gatland seeks a midfield combination to take Wales into next year's World Cup.

"People want that combination to be perfect but sometimes it takes a season or two before you start establishing combinations," said the Wales coach.

Gatland also hails Stephen Jones' game-management leadership and qualities.

The experienced British and Irish Lions fly-half kicked 18 points in Wales' final Six Nations clash against Italy in Cardiff while also setting up Hook's two tries in the 33-10 triumph.

"Not so much on the field, but off the field Stephen has developed into a leader within the team," Gatland told BBC Wales' Scrum V show.

"His performance against Italy was really measured and controlled as the variation in his game was something we have been working on.

"Sometimes the criticism we have had of Stephen in the past is that it has been a little bit too much of the same of keeping the ball in hand and playing all of the time.

The midfield partnership showed some signs of perhaps what they are capable of

Wales coach Warren Gatland

"But his variation against Italy was outstanding and his leadership off the field has been very, very good. He has become a key member for us."

Double Grand Slam winner Jones, Wales' second all-time top-scorer, became Wales' most-capped fly-half against Italy on Saturday when the 32-year-old made his 88th Wales appearance.

The experienced Scarlets man replaced Neil Jenkins as Wales' number one number 10 and has fought off Iestyn Harris, Arwel Thomas, Gavin Henson, Ceri Sweeney and Hook to remain in Wales' pivotal position.

Gatland, though, admits he 'just wants Hook on the field' due to his natural creative talent so the versatile back who has played at fly-half and full-back has seemingly found a home at outside centre alongside Lions man-of-the-series Roberts.

The Ospreys star "really enjoyed" scoring twice against the Azzurri and could have scored two more in his 42nd Welsh cap.

"The midfield partnership showed some signs of perhaps what they are capable of," said Gatland, assessing the 33-1 victory over Italy.

"Defensively they perhaps need to improve but attacking wise James scored a couple of tries, made a few breaks and was outstanding going forward.


"There are a few things he has to work on like his finishing but that centre combination is working quite well.

"I spoke to James and he said it is difficult as they have played three or four games together."

Hook prefers to play at fly-half but Jones' experience in that position and the Ospreys' decision to play the 24-year-old in the centre has meant Gatland has little choice to play him alongside Cardiff Blues battering ram Roberts.

The experienced Tom Shanklin was the man sacrificed as the Wales coach wants a young, attack-minded midfield for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

"It has been nice for the coaches to keep me and Jamie in the centre for the full Six Nations," acknowledged Hook.

"So we can build as a partnership - and it went well."

Wales' new-look midfield has endured teething problems in a "frustrating" Six Nations as Wales finished fourth in the Championship after suffering defeats to England, Ireland and Grand Slam champions France.

Gatland plans world domination

But Wales have been without Lions front row Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones through injury for most of the campaign while fellow big players Alun Wyn Jones, Mike Phillips and Ryan Jones have also missed games.

And centre Gavin Henson remains absent due to his indefinite break from rugby.

Gatland, though, is pragmatic as the silver lining to Wales' 2010 Six Nations cloud is the breakthrough on the international stage of lock Bradley Davies, scrum-half Richie Rees, hooker Gareth Williams and teenage wing Tom Prydie.

"The good thing is that 18 months out from the World Cup is that we've had the opportunity, forced because of injuries, to develop some players and give them a chance at international level," Gatland said.

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see also
Gatland's summer warning to Wales
21 Mar 10 |  Welsh
Phillips builds for big dates
21 Mar 10 |  Welsh
Wales 33-10 Italy
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Wales v Italy match stats
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Wales v Italy photos
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Ireland 27-12 Wales
13 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Wales 20-26 France
26 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Wales 31-24 Scotland
13 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
England 30-17 Wales
06 Feb 10 |  Rugby Union
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales' rugby results, 2009/10
12 Jul 09 |  Welsh
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
Rugby union positions guide
05 Feb 07 |  Laws & Equipment

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