GOODDAY

The Herald - Sport - - RUGBY WORLD CUP -

For those re­peat­edly dis­ap­pointed by the un­will­ing­ness of War­ren Gat­land, the Wales head coach, to trust in the mav­er­ick tal­ent of James Hook. Fi­nally out of al­ter­na­tives Gat­land re­called him to the squad this week and has in­cluded him in the 23 for to­mor­row’s meet­ing with Fiji which could pretty much see Wales se­cure a quar­ter-fi­nal place. The way the 30-year-old has been marginalised has per­haps been un­der­stand­able given his un­will­ing­ness to play his rugby in Wales and the qual­ity of the op­tions avail­able in his pre­ferred role at stand off in par­tic­u­lar where Rhys Pri­est­land and Dan Biggar seem more trusted in terms of fol­low­ing the game­plan. How­ever it is still stag­ger­ing to think that a player of his ca­pa­bil­i­ties has started just three Tests since the last World Cup, none of them sig­nif­i­cant matches, ei­ther. His ver­sa­til­ity could yet prove vi­tal and all Wales will be hop­ing that, just as hap­pened when Shane Wil­liams, pre­vi­ously on the pe­riph­ery of the Wales squad, seized his chance at the 2003 World Cup 12, this tour­na­ment will be the mo­ment when Hook rein­vents him­self at the high­est level. The half­way stage has been reached and in spite of the shocks of the World Cup’s first week­end nat­u­ral or­der is be­ing re­stored.

Ad­mit­tedly there is no chance of the same eight teams reach­ing the knock­out stages as last time, but that was im­pos­si­ble from the time the draw was made and Pool B con­tained only one of those quar­ter-fi­nal­ists.

In spite of the favour Scot­land was done by that draw get­ting through is still not guar­an­teed, how­ever it is 20 years since Samoa con­tested a quar­ter­fi­nal, while South Africa fin­ished bot­tom of the Rugby Cham­pi­onship for the first time this sea­son.

By con­trast, what might have con­fronted them had it not been for what now looks like an ano­maly in the world rank­ings at the time the draw was made is be­gin­ning to be­come clear which could work to their ad­van­tage be­cause in Pool A, which matches up against Pool B come the quar­ter-fi­nals, three of the world’s best teams were al­ways go­ing to knock lumps out of one another.

For all that they were deemed to have slipped up by fail­ing to pick up a bonus point against Fiji, Aus­tralia were the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Satur­day’s epic clash at Twick­en­ham that has left both the Eng­land and Wales squads in­jury rav­aged.

Ad­mit­tedly they can an­tic­i­pate a frenzy when they take their turn to visit Twick­en­ham on Satur­day but for all that they have had in­jury prob­lems too, they go there as the South­ern Hemi­sphere cham­pi­ons rel­a­tively fresh, men­tally and phys­i­cally.

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