James Hook, one of the most gifted backs of his generation and certainly the most talented player to be marginalised by Wales in recent memory, could be lost to international rugby for good if his employers, the French club Perpignan, are relegated next month. Reports on the far side of the water are linking the multi-tasking 28-year-old from Port Talbot – he can play at outside-half, full-back and in both centre positions – with a move to Japan if the worst happens in the final round of Top 14 matches on 6 May.
Perpignan, the Catalan club who reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup as recently as 2011, have been counted among the elite clubs in the Tricolore game for more than a century but if they take nothing from their last-day trip to Clermont Auvergne – a distinct possibility, given Clermont’s 76-match run of home victories – their future will depend on results elsewhere.
Hook has agreed a contract extension at Stade Aime Giral until 2017 and if that holds he will at least be within calling distance of Wales, whose head coach, Warren Gatland, has never completely broken links, despite an obvious reluctance to pick him for major Test matches. But if Perpignan take the hit and the rumours of a possible big-money move to the Far East prove to be accurate, Gatland would find it extremely difficult to include Hook in his thinking ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Another struggling French club, Oyonnax, are thought to have completed the signing of the Harlequins flanker Maurie Fa’asavalu, whose performances at the last World Cup in 2011 were quite something. The Samoan’s name appeared in a comprehensive list of comings and goings among the Top 14 clubs.