James Hook is on record as saying he wants to play outside-half for Perpignan when he starts a new rugby life in France next season. If he produces one of his occasional stellar performances in Edinburgh this weekend, the Welshman will be able to drive a very hard bargain. Hook will wear the fabled red No 10 shirt against Scotland, having been picked ahead of Stephen Jones, and if he makes the most of his opportunity, his country's Six Nations campaign may yet be revived.
Jones suffered a heavy blow in the opening minutes of last Friday's defeat by England, and the official line from the Red Dragon camp yesterday was that he was still suffering from a "bump on the neck" – hence his demotion to the bench. But there had been a public clamour for a change at outside-half from the moment the match ended, and yesterday's announcement, together with that of Lee Byrne's return at full-back, was not surprising.
Warren Gatland, the head coach, said he had considered running the gifted young Scarlets stand-off Rhys Priestland in the pivot role. "There was a long debate," he said. "Rhys has been the best attacking 10 in Wales recently, but to put him under pressure at Murrayfield wasn't fair for a first start. It's a brave call playing James there because he hasn't started at outside-half all season. But he's been wanting to play there for a while and he's a quality performer.
"The key line for him is to be a creator for other people. He has had a tendency to take on a little bit too much himself, to run when perhaps he could have passed. We want him to be natural and instinctive, but also to make the right decisions. Maybe it's about being slightly more conservative and taking fewer risks."
As expected, Ryan Jones will return to the back row for the injured Andrew Powell, while the inexperienced Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle replaces Dwayne Peel on the bench. Gatland is confident that Morgan Stoddart, the Welsh try-scorer against England, will be fit to start.
France, meanwhile, have moved Damien Traille to centre for the exceptional Maxime Mermoz, whose shoulder trouble has forced him out of the tournament. Clément Poitrenaud will play at full-back in Ireland on Sunday.
One Frenchman unlikely to feature is the brick-outhouse centre Mathieu Bastareaud, dropped by the coach Marc Lièvremont after the autumn internationals. "Even if I've always believed in his potential, I'm here to select competitive players and responsible guys," said Lièvremont. "I am not sure Mathieu fills one of those two conditions." Ouch.Reuse content