Hook looks to put his Roman hang-up in the past

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Eternal City is surely not the worst place to go in search of something permanent. And for James Hook the return to Rome and the scene of "one of the darkest days of my career" offers him another chance to make the famous No 10 jersey his for good.

It seems inconceivable that Warren Gatland will not retain the people's favourite in the playmaking role. Hook may not have started at outside-half for his club in five months and his country in two years, but the rust did not stop him producing a performance against Scotland eight days ago that was critical in Wales gaining their first win in nine.

"It did go quite well for me so I'm hoping to get a run at 10," said Hook. "I know there's improvements to make but I'm pleased how it went overall, considering I hadn't played there for so long. The first half-hour couldn't have gone better, to be honest."

The try Hook created for Shane Williams stood out as Wales forged a lead they were never to lose. He was critical of some of his play in the second half – "we sat on the lead a bit and at times kicked the ball away when it was on to go" – but on the whole it was obvious he gave the Dragonhood a cutting edge. So a World Cup dangles in the distance and the homeland hype is already of the rightful heir to Barry, Phil and Co being handed his crown just in time.

Hook, however, is conscious of not becoming wrapped up in all that "production line" nonsense, which is hardly a surprise seeing as he first appeared at outside-half for Wales almost five years ago as a 21-year-old and has failed to nail down the position since, even at the Ospreys.

Although "happy to be involved", it has plainly been a frustrating time. "It was a big change playing at outside-half but it was good to get my hands on the ball a little bit more," he said. "At centre and full-back you don't touch it as much and, when you do, you try to make something happen straight away. At 10 you can just let it flow and wait for something to happen."

Yet not all of his No 10 memoirs are positive. Four years ago at the Stadio Flaminio, referee Chris White told Hook there was time to kick for the corner, then immediately whistled for time. With the game at 23-20, Wales had basically sacrificed a draw as the penalty was eminently kickable. From there, Gareth Jenkins's reign proceeded to crumble inexorably.

"The ref apologised to me afterwards," recalled Hook. "But that was one of the darkest days of my career. So yeah, more than anyone we know Italy are not a soft team at home.

"This is important for us. We've had a massive win against Scotland and if we lose out there or even just scrape through, Murrayfield will be forgotten. We really need to make a statement. We still see ourselves as title contenders."