The Wales assistant coach, Rob Howley, has hit back at suggestions that James Hook is not trusted by the team’s management after the utility back was called up to plug holes in the Wales back line.
Hook was added to Wales’ World Cup squad yesterday, along with Gareth Anscombe, after Scott Williams and Hallam Amos were ruled out of the tournament with knee and shoulder injuries respectively, picked up in the 28-25 defeat of England at Twickenham.
Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, has been accused in the past of not showing faith in Hook, a suggestion that was rejected by Howley. “I have not heard that,” the former Wales scrum-half said. “I’m surprised and disappointed to hear comments like that because we know he has the ability and experience.
“He has the ability to play 10, 12, 13 and 15. We’ve not sat down and talked about selection for Fiji [on Thursday] but the door has opened for them and we’re delighted to welcome both.”
Williams and Amos had been expected to be ruled out of the tournament. The former is thought to have suffered medial ligament damage in his knee, while Gatland said Amos had dislocated his shoulder.
It further widens Wales’ back-line injury crisis. Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb all missed the tournament start with injury, while Corey Allen was replaced by Tyler Morgan in the 31-man squad after a hamstring tear in the opening match against Uruguay.
Anscombe had been set for the initial squad but was left out because of an ankle injury, which has since cleared up to warrant the selection of the New Zealand-born fly-half/full-back. He has featured just once for Wales as a replacement against Ireland in a World Cup warm-up match.
But Howley insisted there were no doubts about the player: “He is fit. He is a quality player and is up to speed of playing international rugby having played Super Rugby.”
Howley said Wales will pick their best available side against Fiji. Victory would put them on the brink of the quarter-finals, with Australia still lying in wait in their final pool game.
But full-back Liam Williams will not take to the field after suffering a concussion when being struck on the head by Tom Wood’s shin. There had been suggestions Wales wanted action to be taken against the England forward but Howley said they had not asked the citing commissioner to look at the incident.
Wales’ cause has been aided by the Fijian danger man Nemani Nadolo being ruled out of the game after the giant wing was given a one-match ban for foul play in his side’s 28-13 defeat to Australia.
Nadolo had been cited for a tip tackle, though he was cleared of that offence but banned for an act of foul play. He has 48 hours to appeal against the decision.
Wales’ victory over England, meanwhile, moved them into second place in the world rankings, their highest position in the 12-year history of the standings.
Of their ascent to second, Howley said: “It’s a nice to place to be and we deserve to be there. It shows the dedication over the last 12 months and our away form has been positive. We have to transfer that to home.”