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Six Nations: Wales admit James Hook fly-half debate

2011 Six Nations Championship - Wales v England
Venue: Millennium Stadium Date: Friday, 4 February Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One from 1930 (BBC Wales and Red Button from 1900); listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Wales; live text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles


James Hook and Stephen Jones
James Hook and Stephen Jones orchestrate the Welsh back-line

Warren Gatland admits Wales' coaching team had a "long and hard debate" about picking James Hook as fly-half in their Six Nations opener with England.

Hook will start at full-back on Friday but Gatland has warned experienced British and Irish Lions number ten Stephen Jones he could have been axed.

Gatland had to "find a spot" for the versatile Hook so the Wales coach dropped Lee Byrne and picked him at 15.

But he said: "We did debate long and hard about whether we play him at 10."

Hook's prodigious talents have been widely hailed and the 25-year-old has earned himself a big-money move from Welsh region the Ospreys to French giants Perpignan after this autumn's Rugby World Cup.

The Wales star prefers to play at fly-half but has been used at centre for the national team to fit him into a strong back-line alongside Jones orchestrating play at number ten.

Hook, who the Ospreys also use in midfield, has played emergency full-back for Wales when Lions star Byrne has been injured.

But he will win his 48th cap at full-back despite Byrne being fit, insisting Byrne's lack of game-time and match-sharpness was a factor in the decision.

Gatland, however, fired a shot across fly-half Jones' bows, warning his status as Wales' number one number ten is under threat from the man who is widely-regarded as Jones' heir apparent.

Scarlets star Jones, who is set to win his 96th Wales cap in their Six Nations opener with England, is expected to retire from Wales after the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Gatland discusses Wales and England similarities

And Wales' coaching staff admit they almost handed Hook the playmaker's role for their Six Nations clash with England at the Millennium Stadium

"We spoke about James going into 10," said Wales attack coach Rob Howley.

"It was a long debate. We've gone for Test-experienced half-backs, two British and Irish Lions (Jones and Mike Phillips). Steve hasn't done anything wrong.

"James showed that when he played for the Ospreys over the Christmas period, when he went in at first receiver, he offered a running and creative threat.

"It's up to us as a backline to get him into the game as often as possible. That is one of the goals for Friday night.

"But we also believe that what Steve can bring us is a certain structure you need in the international game.

"It's about earning the right to play in those channels and about being direct.

"Steve and Mike, physically, over the autumn series were really effective defenders, which is key."

Jones has been a Wales regular since making his Test debut in South Africa 1998 - and remains a high-class tactical controller and efficient game-manager.

But such is Hook's game-breaking prowess that Wales feel they must find room for him somewhere, whether at full-back, fly-half or in the centre.

Gatland, however, has gone for a midfield partnership of Lions star Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

Stephen Jones demands 'smart' Wales

"We felt that the combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in the November Test against New Zealand did really well," said Gatland.

"So it is a chance for them to be reunited again. Jonathan has been on fine form for the Scarlets and we're pleased with that midfield combination."

Jones has fended off potential fly-half rivals Iestyn Harris, Arwel Thomas, Gavin Henson, Ceri Sweeney, Nicky Robinson and latterly Hook and Dan Biggar to keep hold of Wales' coveted number ten jersey.

And he reacted diplomatically to Gatland's comments, saying: "The way I look at it is it's always the same when I come into camp.

"It's a massive honour to be here and you never expect to be given the jersey. If you are lucky enough to be given the honour, you make the most of that.

"You can't worry about external things, the things you can't control. All you can do is concentrate on your own performance."



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see also
Wales pick Hook in full-back role
02 Feb 11 |  Welsh
Hartley keen to silence Gatland
02 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Flanker Wood handed England debut
02 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Wales dealt Halfpenny injury blow
01 Feb 11 |  Welsh
England primed for hot reception
31 Jan 11 |  English
Wales urged to pick Hook at 10
28 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Hook happy to fill Wales 15 shirt
26 Oct 10 |  Welsh
Johnson backs Hartley to respond
26 Jan 11 |  Rugby Union
Gatland questions Hartley value
25 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Faletau suffers Wales injury blow
25 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Williams omitted from Wales squad
23 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Six Nations to end Friday games
26 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh


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