James Hook’s unlikely bid for a place in the World Cup with Wales is set to be enhanced this week with a recall to the squad to face Fiji on Saturday.
Wales’ head coach Warren Gatland will call up a third fly-half following a groin injury to Dan Biggar sustained in the 33-28 defeat by Australia that threatens to end his autumn campaign after less than 50 minutes on the field.
If the worst fears are confirmed later today. Rhys Priestland, who replaced Biggar on Saturday, is likely to be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of facing the All Blacks on 22 November. Gatland ruled out selecting Gareth Anscombe, the former junior All Black with a Welsh mother, who is due to join Cardiff Blues this week from Waikato.
With Cardiff’s Rhys Patchell injured and summer tourist Matthew Morgan now playing in England’s second tier with Bristol, it looks likely 76-cap Hook will get another chance.
The 29-year-old deeply divides opinion in Wales. A naturally gifted ball player and goal-kicker, his off-the-cuff approach is clearly too much for Gatland to bear and he has started just twice – against the Barbarians and Tonga – since the last World Cup in 2011.
Gatland said: “We don’t know the extent of Dan’s groin strain yet but we’ll look to bring another No 10 into the squad this week.”
Leigh Halfpenny will be rested against Fiji to recover from a head injury suffered in the build-up to Australia’s third try, to safeguard his place against New Zealand.
Whether Wales are in a good position to take on the All Blacks following their 25th defeat to a southern hemisphere side under Gatland’s leadership depends on whether the glass was half-empty or half-full, as the crowd at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium witnessed yet another anti-climax.
For only the third time in their history, Wales scored four tries in a Test against a southern hemisphere team in their defeat. Yet it was still not enough to strike a psychological blow against their opponents ahead of next year’s World Cup, though Wales insist they can improve.
“If you look at the scoreline people probably will [say] this is where we have been before playing against these guys,” said try-scorer Alun Wyn Jones. “We were left without the win but they will not know what we are going to bring or where we are going to come from when we meet next.”
Twice Wales let the lead slip – after Rhys Webb scampered over inside three minutes and after Samson Lee anchored a scrum that earned a penalty try 15 minutes from time.
In between those tries, George North handed Alex Cuthbert an easy finish and the hard running of Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton put Adam Jones in range. But three glaring errors allowed Israel Folau, twice, and Tevita Kuridrani to respond.
“In the past we have been told we are pretty predictable and easy to slow down but we showed if we get a break and an offload we can be a different side,” said Jones.
Warburton bemoaned the way Wales yet again failed to go the distance against Australia. “We can’t keep being this close and then we don’t get over,” the captain said.
A rejuvenated Australia now head to Paris to face France on Saturday before the Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, the former Leinster coach, returns to Dublin for the fixture with Ireland.
Australia captain Michael Hooper said: “There’s a lot to work on but to fight our way back against Wales shows we’re in good shape.”Reuse content