Hook at No 10 again as Wales put faith in attack

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The Independent Online

James Hook will have another chance to lay permanent claim to the jersey he and his country prize above all others in an encounter against Ireland on Saturday which the No 10 believes will "define Wales' Six Nations".

Warren Gatland was expected to return Hook to the playmaking role in which he excelled in the victory at Murrayfield. An injury crisis at centre forced Hook back into the midfield for the win in Italy a fortnight ago, but with Jonathan Davies now recovered from a hamstring injury, Stephen Jones is reunited with the bench.

"We wanted to give James another opportunity at 10 – there wasn't a lot of debate," said Gatland. "Stephen's disappointed but is the ultimate pro. James provides a running threat and we will be looking for him to show he can control the game as well."

For his part, Hook – who will be assisted in the goal-kicking duties by the comeback of the big-booting Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny – was clearly delighted. "I know it was a bit of a no-brainer [being moved against Italy] but yes, it was a bit of a blow," said Hook, who for the last two seasons has not even been first-choice outside-half for the Ospreys.

"Once you have a good game you want to keep that momentum going. I'm just thankful I've got the chance to build something again."

The 25-year-old was far from the only one assuaged. Indeed, the record sheet joined in with the Welsh media – and presumably the majority of the public – in screaming for Hook to reassume the tiller. Wales are six out of six for the Six Nations matches Hook has started at outside-half and 10 out of 14 overall. In contrast, they have lost 51 out of the 80 Tests in which Jones has begun at outside-half.

There are other damning statistics to occupy the mind. Incredibly, Ireland have only lost once in Cardiff in the last 28 years – and just as shocking to some will be the fact that Wales have not won at the Millennium Stadium in a full calendar year. "The last two wins were good for us but this will be the game we'll be judged on," said Hook. "It's a massive test we simply need to win. If we lose, it will probably be judged as a being a poor Six Nations for us."

Ireland may claim the same, although yesterday their coach, Declan Kidney, went in what many feel is the opposite direction to Gatland in sticking with a tried and trusted outside-half in Ronan O'Gara over the flair of Jonathan Sexton.

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