Sean Holley: James Hook is your man for Wales v New Zealand game
WALES have been told they should turn to James Hook as the man to "offer something different" from fly-half for the visit of New Zealand on Saturday.
The call comes from Hook's former coach at the Ospreys, Sean Holley, who helped bring the 27-year-old through into senior rugby.
Dan Biggar will be checked by Wales's medical team today after his battering by the Samoans, the outlook not looking good for the youngster immediately after the game last Friday, his damaged shoulder in a sling.
And with Rhys Priestland continuing to search for form, Holley believes Wales should give Hook his first start at fly-half since the World Cup.
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"If Dan fails to make it, I would pick James at fly-half for the New Zealand game," said Holley, nowadays a highly regarded pundit and tactical analyst with BBC's Scrum V team.
"Rhys's body language and form suggest to me that he needs to be taken out of the firing line at this point.
"For the final five or ten minutes against Argentina, James moved to No. 10 anyway, and he has been playing well there for Perpignan this season.
"He has the core skills but he also offers something different and I know he is highly regarded by the other players.
"Whoever plays it isn't going to be easy, but we should never underestimate what James can bring to a game. He is a sublime passer of a ball, can kick and is a dangerous runner.
"I just feel that having him at fly-half would at least pose some kind of attacking threat to New Zealand. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter would know that they had someone in front of them capable of causing problems."
Wales have seemingly lost trust in Hook since he stood in for Priestland in the World Cup encounters against France and Australia — games that Warren Gatland's team lost.
He didn't make the squad for the Samoa match last Friday and there is also the issue that he will not be available for the date with the Wallabies on December 1 because of club commitments in France.
"I think we have to worry about the All Blacks before we think about Australia," said Holley.
"James is having a run of games at fly-half, his form is good and that's all that should matter. When he was at the Ospreys we gave him time at No. 10 and then used him at inside centre. Wales said they couldn't pick him at fly-half because he wasn't playing there regularly.
"He is now, so there is a case for asking why he isn't in the team.
"He is a top-quality player who could bring the freshness Wales need to improve their performance against New Zealand."
Holley believes the challenge over the next five days will be for Wales to make a number of technical improvements. "There are a few things the boys need to do better," he added.
"If you look at the tape of New Zealand's game against Scotland the other week, you will see how aggressive and efficient the All Blacks are at the breakdown. They stay on their feet and send the ball back at lightning speed.
"By contrast, too many of our players hit the floor, their body heights all wrong in the tackle area.
"We have two outstanding wings in George North and Alex Cuthbert, but it is worrying that they have caused the opposition so few problems in this series.
"George carried the ball 14 times against Argentina but didn't make one clean break, which suggests to me that the forwards are not supplying the quality ball for him to properly test opposition defences.
"But let's see how it goes. It would just be nice to see a good performance against New Zealand. It's about showing bravery, endeavour and technical ability, perhaps revelling in being written off.
"We seem to be better as underdogs."