10:13am Wednesday 23rd October 2013
By Iwan Gabe Davies
WALES head coach Warren Gatland has praised James Hook’s attitude and stressed the Perpignan star is eager to prove his prodigious talents on the international stage again.
The 2008 and 2012 Grand Slam winner was named in the 35-man national squad as Wales prepare to face South Africa, Argentina, Tonga and Australia next month.
Although the versatile Hook, who can play outside half, centre and full back, was in last season’s Six Nations squad which retained the title, it was as a bit player.
But after some sizzling performances for Perpignan, scoring all the Catalan’s side in their recent 27-22 losing bonus point defeat to Gloucester and starring in a crushing five-point 31-14 victory over Edinburgh on Sunday, both in the Heineken Cup, it was difficult for him to be omitted.
“James has been playing quite a bit at full-back and he’s played the last couple of games at ten,” Gatland said.
“It’s ironic that we picked him at full back and thought he was quite good there on a few occasions. He’s had a couple of good performances. He had a good game against Gloucester and he played well at the weekend – he kicked well.
“He hasn’t featured a lot in the last couple of seasons and he’s desperate and hungry to come into the squad and perform well. He wants to show everyone that he’s as keen as ever to play for Wales. I was pleased to hear that in the conversation I had with him, in terms of where is mind-set is.”
Gatland also praised scrum half Mike Phillips, despite his pending investigation at his club Bayonne.
He insisted the controversial 31-year-old, who reportedly turned up to a video analysis session drunk, has always conducted himself with the utmost professionalism on Wales and Lions duty in recent years.
“All I can say over the last campaigns with us he has been great,” Gatland said.
“He conducted himself extremely well with the Lions in Australia, both on and off the field.
“I am expecting that same sort of attitude from him when he is involved in this (autumn) campaign.
“Obviously, there are slight concerns about making sure this is something that does not continue to be repeated.
“We will just sit down and have a quiet chat about where his head’s at and what he’s doing, but there will be no sanctions for him here in this set-up.”
Asked if any club sanctions would affect his international prospects, Gatland said: “Not with us. That’s a French decision.
“That’s a Bayonne decision. Those are issues for him to sort out."
There were plenty of other talking points in a squad that contained 13 members of this summer's successful British and Irish Lions outfit who won a 2-1 series against Australia as well as three uncapped players in Scarlets scrum half Rhodri Williams, centre Cory Allen from the Cardiff Blues and Ospreys wing Eli Walker (Ospreys).
There were re-calls for former Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris, now with Top 14 giants Perpignan, Ospreys prop Aaron Jarvis and the 2011 World Cup star, Scarlets outside half Rhys Priestland, the trio call returning to the fold after injury.
Toby Faletau and Andrew Coombs were the only two Newport Gwent Dragons involved in the set-up while prolific wing Alex Cuthbert misses out through injury after he was hurt early in Cardiff Blues’ 19-15 upset of Heineken Cup champions Toulon on Saturday.
Centre Jamie Roberts is also absent as he fights back to full fitness with his ankle injury.
Wales squad – Forwards: Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (captain – Cardiff Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro)
Backs: Rhodri Williams (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Patchell (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Jon Davies (Scarlets), Ashley Beck (Ospreys), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Owen Williams (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), George North (Northampton Saints), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
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