Hook losing out in fitness race for visit of All Blacks

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The Independent Online

If Wales are to defeat New Zealand for the first time in 55 years then it is likely they will have to do so without the playmaker many believe would be critical to their chances. James Hook was yesterday described as "50-50" to recover from his knee injury in time for Saturday, although the prevailing mood in the camp suggested this was an optimistic prognosis.

What does seem almost certain is that Stephen Jones will be at outside-half when Warren Gatland names his side at lunchtime. The solid veteran would have been favourite anyway to secure the role above his talented junior, but Hook's absence from the replacements would still be keenly felt.

It has become a familiar and successful trend in the Kiwi's short, but revolutionary reign for the No 10 to be changed as the game enters its defining stages. Two weeks ago, Hook was introduced for Jones after 50 minutes against the South Africans and although the 23-year-old gave away an interception try with his first touch of the ball he was widely applauded afterwards for both his kicking and attacking play.

Hook was then selected against Canada on Friday with the challenge to win a starting berth against the All Blacks ringing in his ears. Alas, he limped off after 18 minutes after damaging tendons which may require keyhole surgery. If Hook does not make it then his Osprey team-mate, Dan Biggar, will take his place on the bench. Biggar is only 19 and despite his obvious potential any game time against New Zealand would be a big ask.

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