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Debate rumbles on over Hook

James Hook will be out of sight probably before the dust has even settled on Wales' Friday night clash against Tonga.

But whether he becomes out of mind as well is a debate set to run all the way into late January until Wales coach Warren Gatland announces his 2014 RBS 6 Nations squad.

Hook, who has been handed Wales' number 10 shirt for the first time since the 2011 World Cup third place play-off defeat against Australia, remains a central figure in one of Welsh rugby's most fierce arguments among supporters.

His talent is unquestioned. Cue Friday's Wales captain Ryan Jones.

"James is one of the most gifted individuals Welsh rugby has seen in a long time," Jones said.

"If you watch the guy train daily, from a skill point of view there is nothing the kid can't do. There is no doubting that.

"He has thrived in France, away from this environment, and is held in high esteem there and he poses an individual attacking threat.

"The role of the 10 has changed and it's about picking those moments. James has a job to do, like everyone else has in the team.

"It's about facilitating others at times, but what James does is buy time for the people beside him because as a defender you will always have one eye on him.

"I don't think he knows what he is going to do half the time. With that, he becomes a wonderful attacking threat."

As for Hook's impact on French team Perpignan. Cue his team-mate for club and country Luke Charteris.

"He has been a bit of a god over there," Charteris said. "They love him.

"He has been playing so well this year. To be fair, he has been playing all his rugby at 15 and he's been carving it up and I think he's probably been our best player."

In terms of Wales, though, life is far from straightforward for the 72 times-capped, 28-year-old.

For starters, Hook's club contract does not contain a release clause permitting him to play for Wales outside of the International Rugby Board's autumn Test window, hence his unavailability when Australia arrive in Cardiff next week.

And even seven years after his Wales debut, does anyone seriously know what his most effective position is? Fly-half? Centre? Full-back?

Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland and Dan Biggar are among those who all present powerful or overwhelming selection cases in those positions.

And the inability to secure full release from Perpignan for Test duty has, certainly in the past, irked Gatland.

Tonga are comfortably the weakest opposition of Wales' four-Test autumn campaign, so Hook's critics will doubtless be quickly on the offensive even if he delivers a superb performance and runs the show on Friday night.

He is that kind of player, a divider of opinion, as there are also those who feel he should be Wales fly-half when the Six Nations campaign kicks off against Italy on February 1.

With Priestland and Biggar currently scrapping for the keys to number 10, Hook has his work cut out in that department, but there must also be the possibility of him disappearing completely.

Rumours abounded just before Gatland named his autumn squad last month that Hook had not made the group of 35, although such speculation ultimately proved unfounded.

But when Hook departs the Wales squad this weekend - he is set to play for Perpignan against Clermont Auvergne next Friday night - will it prove to be a short or long-term au revoir?

The fact that no-one really knows at this stage, possibly not even Gatland, suggests the Hook debate is far from finished.


From Belfast Telegraph