Wednesday 22 November 2017

Hook: I'm over World Cup blip

James Hook
James Hook

Andrew Baldock

James Hook insists his World Cup wobble is behind him as he prepares for a probable Wales return at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.

Wales wowed the rugby world as they reached the semi-finals in New Zealand -- their best result in the tournament since 1987 -- but it was not a tournament to savour for Hook.

The 26-year-old missed vital goal-kicks against South Africa, semi-final opponents France and during a bronze-medal match loss to Australia, and he also suffered a shoulder injury.

Hook was then unavailable for the Wallabies rematch in December due to commitments in France with his new club Perpignan, but he could now find himself filling the critical out-half role in Dublin.

Scarlets star Rhys Priestland is battling to recover in time from a knee injury, which has prised open the door for Hook's reappearance.

Reflecting on the World Cup from a personal perspective, Hook said: "It was so disappointing for me and my family. I was just keen to get over to France, get back on the pitch, go game by game and sort of forget about it.

"The semi-final was the lowest I have been after a game, without a doubt. You can't quite think straight for a while, and going over to France was the best thing for me, probably.

"I was bitterly disappointed. I worked so hard for what is the pinnacle of international rugby, and it didn't go well. But I have got over that now, and it is about this Six Nations and beyond."

Wales coach Warren Gatland -- without Lions hooker Matthew Rees, who misses the first two games of the campaign with a calf strain -- has delayed announcing his team until tomorrow.

Hook, though, has been preparing this week with a mindset of being in the starting XV.

"I am just going about training as usual," he added. "We are not sure about the injuries, but it is just the same as usual for me.

"I am focused. You have got to have the mindset of if you are going to be playing -- it's the same for everyone.

"We know it is a huge game on Sunday. Ireland are a quality team, so we know we are in for a big test."

Hook has been a regular fixture at No 10 in the Perpignan side since moving to France from the Ospreys, and he added: "I am playing every week in one position, and I am enjoying my rugby there.

"It is a complete culture change that I am enjoying and my family is enjoying. Where we are in the league is frustrating, but if we can get ourselves up the table a bit more, then everything will be going perfectly.

"I was worried how my wife and my little boy would settle in, but as soon we got there people were ringing us asking if we needed anything, and within a week or two we had friends all over Perpignan.

"It's quite a small town, but it's rugby-mad, a bit like a miniature Wales."

Should Hook be involved on Sunday, he looks likely to be handed the goalkicking duties, although Wales do have other options in Stephen Jones and Leigh Halfpenny.

But whoever is entrusted with the task has full backing from Wales kicking specialist Neil Jenkins.

"I was quite happy with our goalkicking in the World Cup until the semi-final," Jenkins said. "The statistics were good in the pool stages -- seven misses, compared to 13 in 2007.

"I was very pleased with the quarter-final (against Ireland) because the conditions in Wellington were some of the worst I had experienced.

"For some reason, it did not quite go our way in the semi-final. Stuff does happen. They work extremely hard, and the semi-final was one of those days."

Irish Independent

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