Mark Orders column: James Hook not feeling the Blues
IT would be fascinating to learn how the Blues plan to lure James Hook home to Wales if speculation proves correct that they plan to make a play for him as their marquee signing to replace Jamie Roberts.
There has been no official confirmation that they have the Perpignan playmaker in their sights, of course, some rugby operations seemingly having a code of secrecy written into their constitutions.
But if the intent does exist you’d pay to be a fly on the wall peering over the shoulders of Blues chairman Peter Thomas and his chief executive Richard Holland as they drafted their missive to Hook selling the region to him.
Let’s hazard a guess as to how the pitch might go.
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“Hi James, or should that be bonjour, you being France-based and all that.
“Anyway, we want to tell you why we feel there is a great opportunity for you at the Arms Park.
“There are lots of openings at the old place, not least because we have waved goodbye to so many leading players in the past year, including Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams, Maama Molitika, Paul Tito, Ben Blair, Rhys Thomas, John Yapp, Dan Parks and Casey Laulala.
“Xavier Rush has retired as a player and now Jamie R. has informed us he plans to broaden his personal horizons in a new environment: trainee doctor- speak for getting the hell out of here.
“There are suggestions others could follow him, but we haven’t heard anything on that score yet.
“No matter. We are placing the accent on youth, boys to take us forward. We have lost our first two Heineken Cup matches of the season and our last four in the league, with Leinster putting 59 points on us and Ulster hitting 48 in Cardiff.
“But, hey, being a cosmopolitan sort you will realise that Rome didn’t go up quickly.
“We know that deciding whether to come here will not be an easy decision for you.
“Rugby players have short careers and are keen to pick up as much silverware as they can, so they can look back in future years, a bag of Werther’s Originals close by, and tell their grandkids of the incredible heights they once scaled.
“Our expectation is that you will also have heard, as you reside in that medieval town in southern France and enjoy the Mediterranean climate, that regional rugby is going through something of a tough time, with rumours that some do not even have a pot to use should nature call in the middle of the night.
“But don’t let all that sway you.
“We can offer you a competitive salary and we are based in Wales.
“PS: It’s probably best if you don’t ask your old Ospreys buddy Gavin Henson what it’s like here.”
Not the most persuasive spiel, then. But is there anything that has been missed out? Hook is currently playing in the most star-spangled league in the world, earning enough money to look after himself and his family for life. It takes some leap of the imagination to believe he might be convinced there is merit in throwing it all in to join the Blues. Accepted, Perpignan are not exactly having their greatest season and reportedly have the odd financial issue to deal with.
But at this point the Blues seem almost historically weak.
They are operating within Welsh rugby’s £3.5 million salary cap, which restricts the ability of a region to strengthen quickly. Progress has to be step by step, dependent on how fast young players develop.
For an entity who have lost the core of their side, that adds up to trouble, as the likelihood is it will be years before they are properly competitive again, making themselves particularly unattractive to big-name players.
What stellar performer in his right mind is going to want to stand under his own posts several times a game every weekend, watching an opposition kicker attempt conversions?
That isn’t to say Hook might not eventually fancy a move home — he spoke fondly of the Ospreys, his home region, when he left for Perpignan.
But if they wanted to bring him home when his contract expires, where would they use him, with Dan Biggar established at No. 10? It would be back to the situation Hook found himself in before he left for France, playing in the centre, which didn’t exactly please him.
Where he goes next is going to be intriguing. But, the way things stand, and notwithstanding the attraction of a pint of Brains and a steaming hot Clark’s pie, he and the Blues do not seem obvious partners.
Genius still exists — he’s called Dan Carter
MARGARET Thatcher could have been speaking for a certain breed of rugby coach when she once declared: “There is no alternative.”
No alternative to conservatism and safety-first tactics; to power-based rugby and the belief that all else is froth. Well, last Sunday Dan Carter showed there is another way.
If you missed his display against Scotland last Sunday, unlucky you, because it was the work of an individual playing a sport at a different level from his contemporaries.
Richie McCaw shone as well, helping to provide the quick ball that makes a fly-half’s life so much easier. But Carter glittered.
At one point, when he was setting up the final try, he appeared to be executing one skill while thinking of the next two or three, taking mental pictures of where his team-mates were while stepping through the home defence.
Scotland gave it their best, but against this jinking, mesmerising, scheming, punishing force of nature they had no chance whatsoever.
What would Wales give for a player like him?
Fly-half, after all, has traditionally been seen as a special position in Welsh rugby, filled in the national team by greats such Barry John, Phil Bennett, Cliff Morgan and Dai Watkins.
The modern game, we were told, had made such maestros historical peculiarities, their like never to be seen again, with the emphasis now on the more prosaic arts of playing for territory, tackling and shipping the ball out to brick outhouses in the centre.
Carter does all those and much, much more.
Make no mistake, last weekend proved that genius still exists in rugby.