Hook returns for Wales to face France
James Hook will start for Wales at fly-half in their World Cup semi-final against France on Saturday after Rhys Priestland failed to recover from a shoulder problem.
Priestland, 24, arrived in New Zealand as Warren Gatland’s third choice fly-half but he excelled in the quarter-final win over Ireland and was set to start against the French had he shrugged off the injury.
But having not trained all week, Priestland has been ruled out meaning Hook, who has played just three minutes at fly-half in the competition so far, gets the nod over Wales’ record caps holder Stephen Jones.
Hook featured at full-back against South Africa and Samoa but sat out the matches with Namibia and Fiji before coming on at the death against Ireland.
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However, he did play at No.10 in Wales’ last warm-up game against Argentina in August and three of their Six Nations matches, including the 28-9 defeat to France.
“Time was against Rhys, but we are happy that we have the talent and ability elsewhere in the squad to cover him,” said Gatland, who is looking to guide Wales to their first ever World Cup final.
“Rhys has done everything we have asked of him and more during this World Cup, but, when we have players of the calibre and experience of James Hook and Stephen Jones coming into the squad and starting line-up, there is no sense that Rhys' absence leaves us any weaker.
“We know that the people in Wales and the fans that have travelled here are excited about reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup and we are too, but beating France on Saturday must be and will be our sole focus.
“The time to reflect and to celebrate will come if we win our next two matches, until that happens our focus on the task ahead must be absolute.”
With lock Luke Charteris shaking off a shoulder problem, Hook replacing Priestland is Wales’ only change from the side that beat Ireland with Jones coming onto the bench.
Charteris, Jamie Roberts, George North and captain Sam Warburton sat out training on Tuesday with minor niggles, but all four have been passed fit to face the French, who have won six of their last seven meetings with Wales.