Hook must lift Wales in heavyweight test

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The Independent Online

Ric Suggitt, the Canada coach, duly named a huge team to face Wales yesterday that if not quite a banana skin is certainly a speed bump. Gareth Jenkins' men should, and probably will, find the mobility to negotiate their first obstacle at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes tomorrow lunchtime, but the uncompromising north Americans are keen to stress that their opponents will definitely not be in cruise control.

"This is a different team to the one that lost 61-26 to Wales last November," promised Suggitt. "This time we will be out to frustrate them and make them play uncharacteristic rugby."

Jenkins's ever-swelling army of critics in the Principality would no doubt conclude that to his Wales "uncharacteristic rugby" would merely amount to them winning line-outs, making tackles and having something resembling a coherent game-plan. Whatever, nobody there will have failed to understand Suggitt's crude intentions. Canada's blueprint is writ large on the weight charts – physical, very, very physical.

The veteran forwards Rod Snow, Jon Thiel, Jamie Cudmore and Mike James all have enthusiastic growing genes in common and help to bulk up a shirt-stretching outfit showing nine changes from the one humbled in Cardiff last autumn. When Suggitt talks "quarter-final" he does it without so much a daft smile on his face as a wry grin. "We did it in in 1991 and that's always been the benchmark," he said. "We're going after three wins this year."

There were similar noises before the last World Cup and they were answered emphatically by a Welsh team who eased to a 41-10 opener. That success was all down to a far more athletic Wales shifting their pace-challenged rivals all over the pitch and allowing their backs a clear route to the juicy stuff. This time the creative onus will fall on the shoulders of James Hook.

"James is a key player," admitted Jenkins. "He is special. His own team-mates believe that as well. He has the potential to make a big name for himself." Hook knows as much. "I am aware of the attention but I haven't achieved anything yet in the World Cup," said the 22 year-old. "I've got to go out and live up to all these expectations."

If he falters, then Stephen Jones is on the bench and Jenkins is so desperate that he could just go to the Scarlets No 10 and ignore the fact that his old pal at Stradey has not played for four months. Time, not to mention patience, is running out for the coach.

Throughout the Six Nations and a series of warm-ups, Wales looked to have little rhyme and even less reason. It is a fallibility that Canada will try to feast on and in front-rower Snow, second-rowers Thiel and Luke Tait and back-rower Cudmore they have four who have played in Wales.

"I think they are still trying to find their own identity," said Snow, the 34-year-old. "We believe if we play the perfect game we can cause an upset. They need to settle into their groove – and that is what we have got to stop them from doing."

For Wales it would be unthinkable and too bitter to bear. And for Jenkins the beginning of a decidedly sour end.

Wales: K Morgan (Dragons); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), S Parker, S Williams; J Hook (all Ospreys), D Peel (Scarlets, capt); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones, I Gough, A-W Jones, J Thomas (all Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), A Popham (Scarlets). Replacements: T R Thomas (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), M Owen (Dragons), C Charvis (Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Scarlets), G Thomas (Blues).

Canada: M Pyke (Montauban); D Van der Merwe (James Bay), C Culpan (Meralomas), D Spicer (Auch), J Pritchard (Bedford); A Monro (Edinburgh), M Williams (Albi, capt); R Snow (Dogs), P Riordan (Burnaby Lake), J Thiel (Bayside Sharks), L Tait (Overmach Parma), M James (Stade Francais), J Cudmore (Clermont Auvergne), D Biddle (Meralomas), S-M Stephen (Beziers). Replacements: A Carpenter (Brantford Harlequins), D Pletch (London St Georges), M Pletch (McMaster University), M Burak (Pau), C Yukes (Agen), E Fairhurst (Cornish Pirates), R Smith (Montauban).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).