Hook sees Italy as Lions tester

Wales fly-half James Hook has admitted that Saturday's Six Nations clash with Italy is a chance to prove his worth to Lions coaches Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley. [more]

Hook sees Italy as Lions tester

Wales fly-half James Hook has admitted that Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy is a chance to prove his worth to Lions coaches Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley.

The Ospreys star has been forced to play second fiddle to 2005 Lion Stephen Jones during the November internationals and first three rounds of the Six Nations and he is fast running out of chances to press his Lions claims.

"I’m really pleased to get the start,” said the 23-year-old.

”Of course, the Lions is at the back of my mind and this is my opportunity to stake my claim for that and the Welsh jersey.”

Hook, who starts for his country at the Stadio Flaminio in a side that sees nine changes from the team that lost to France a fortnight ago, is hoping that an impressive performance against the Azzuri will see him retained for what could be a crucial final game against Ireland on March 21.

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Retaining his position and keeping an in-form Stephen Jones at bay would be the perfect way to persuade McGeechan and co that he is worth taking to South Africa at the end of May.

"It’s been a difficult couple of weeks and frustrating because I want to play in every game,” explained Hook.

"Sadly I got injured on my last start against Canada and, in fairness, Stephen has playing so well ever since by controlling the games so it became a case of waiting for the opportunity to arrive. I’m so glad and I just want to give it my best shot.

"I want to give myself the best chance to show what I can do and then, if I do well, hopefully I can get selection for the next game as well."

Despite not starting any of the opening three Six Nations matches against Scotland, England and France, Hook has not been released back to his club at any stage since the start of the tournament.

Gatland’s decision to keep Hook in camp has meant he has had little game time in recent weeks but the player himself doesn’t see that as a problem.

"I do feel ready for Test-match rugby. I could have possibly played more rugby for the Ospreys this season but Warren Gatland wanted me to stay with the squad and we’ve been training really hard.

"But it was Warren’s decision and I wouldn’t have been happy to go back and pick up an injury.”

Hook’s return to the Welsh starting XV coincides with Gavin Henson’s latest comeback. Hook’s Ospreys team-mate toured with the Lions to New Zealand in 2005 but has struggled with injury throughout much of the last four years.

Henson has yet to start for Wales since the 2008 Six Nations, while the duo have only played together four times in club colours so far this season. 

However, despite their combined lack of game time, Hook is confident that he and Henson will quickly regain their impressive understanding.

"I haven’t played much with Gavin this season because of his injuries but we’re comfortable playing together so there won’t be anything to worry about there.

"Gavin is the sort of player who as soon as he comes back to fitness looks sharp straight away. That shows the talent he is."

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