Jenkins lets Australia off Hook for crunch tie
Gareth Jenkins seemingly had one simple message for James Hook yesterday after confirming he had dropped the young fly-half in favour of Stephen Jones for tomorrow's crunch World Cup game with Australia – continue your education.
The Welsh coach remains a huge fan of the Osprey starlet, but clearly believes that a fit Jones is still his most potent playmaker. In this respect, Jenkins could call on the overwhelming evidence of last weekend's dramatic turnaround against Canada when Jones came on for Hook and spearheaded the fightback that transformed an eight-point deficit into a 25-point victory.
He thus had no hesitation in restoring Jones to what had anyway been his berth before injury and so risk yet more public wrath for demoting the golden boy of Welsh rugby to the bench. Indeed, Jenkins even went so far as to suggest that Hook might sit there in the Millennium Stadium and take note of what his older team-mate is up to.
"James is a massive talent and is hugely fortunate that he can develop and be around Stephen," said Jenkins. "Where Stephen is at the moment, James can't be. He's there because of the fantastic experience he's had and James can learn so much off that. Sunday was the perfect example. James was the first to recognise that game-management is where his challenge is."
What impressed Jenkins so much about Jones was the way in which he understood exactly what was required to break down the belligerent Canucks. At half-time and with Wales 12-9 behind, Jenkins went first to his substitutes for their thoughts before addressing the starting XV. "Jones and Alfie [Gareth Thomas] were spot on in their game analysis," he said. "They were in the same place as me in their thinking."
After that, the pair's inclusion – Thomas, the captain, back as full-back – was inevitable, although many believed Hook would be shifted to inside centre. Jenkins confessed this had been an option but decided that Sonny Parker should retain his place. "Sonny gives us exactly what we need at 12 for this game," said Jenkins. Namely, greater bulk and tighter defence.
There was still an air of disbelief in the Australian camp concerning Hook's relegation, so influential was the 22-year-old in last November's draw and May's thriller in Sydney. In contrast, there were just nods of reluctant acknowledgement as to the promotion of Colin Charvis. The veteran flanker – who will play on the blindside, with Jonathan Thomas moving to No 8 – has always been highly rated in the southern hemisphere. It promises to be a ferocious battle with the rampant Australian back row, although they have been warned to ration their blood-thirst.
On arrival in Cardiff yesterday the Wallabies coach, John Connolly, quit whingeing about the "unfairness of Wales playing at home" for long enough to agree with the IRB's hardline stance on foul play. "Knuckles", as he is known, has instructed his men to be on their best behaviour. Wycliff Palu seems to have taken the message to heart. Almost. "I've definitely got to be a bit careful," said the hulking No 8. "There's times when I've gone for a big tackle, mistimed it and gone high. But that's rugby. So long as the other guy's not badly injured it should be fine."
Wales v Australia (Cardiff, tomorrow): G Thomas (Cardiff Blues, capt); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), C Charvis (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys). Replacements: T R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), M Owen (Newport-Gwent Dragons), A Popham (Llanelli Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys), J Hook (Ospreys), K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons).