Who plays at No. 10?
October 22, 2013
James Hook is just one of four potential fly-half options © Getty Images
The most pertinent question facing Warren Gatland this autumn - just who fills the void left by Jamie Roberts' injury - has a familiar dynamic following James Hook's inclusion in Wales' 35-man squad, but it also re-opens the debate about just who plays at No.10, if only slightly.
Hook's name is one of four potential fly-half options, and just as many inside-centre candidates, with only Liam Williams providing cover for British & Irish Lions Man of the Series Leigh Halfpenny.
Given that Gatland has often seen Hook's versatility as much a hindrance as help, the recall indicates management's awareness of those playing away from the RaboDirect Pro 12, something that negates the WRU's leverage in retaining key players.
Scott Williams' Heineken Cup form this past fortnight - coupled with Gatland's tutelage during the formative stages of his international career - leaves him as the front-runner against Ashley Beck and the highly-talented uncapped Cory Allen.
Williams has been groomed for Gatland's hard-running game plan, whereas the alternatives provide a slight of hand that could prove fruitful against a tiring defensive line. With a schedule that opens with South Africa, includes Argentina and the annual Pacific nation, the autumn provides an opportunity for Williams to perfect what is demanded of him ahead of another Six Nations title defence.
The fly-half situation is equally as pivotal. Rhys Patchell's inclusion in the squad should see him start against Tonga - much like Dan Biggar did against Fiji three years ago - but Hook's form at club level at least provides those that champion his cause with perhaps one final chance to do so.
In a way, the inclusion of the former Osprey could also blur the pathway that Gatland has been instrumental in implementing as it comes at a time where Allen has seemingly edged out Dragons centre Jack Dixon, a player who has been on Gatland's radar since he was 16 years of age. The focus, for some time, has been on expanding the options available to him, and whilst Hook is a considerable one, it is one that was deemed not fitting to structure.
The return of Rhys Priestland's fitness and, most importantly, composure, reacquaints Gatland with another player he has grand designs for, although Biggar's performance against England in March leaves him in plenty of credit with an environment that has often been criticised for its loyalty. Should Priestland start on November 9 against the Springboks it will most likely complete an all-Scarlets midfield, but there is no place just yet for deceptive genius that Jordan Williams is capable of providing.
Roberts is the not the only notable absentee; Alex Cuthbert's injury may encourage fears of last year's barren spell, but it leaves an opening for either Liam Williams or the pacey Eli Walker to seize, while Matthew Rees will undergo testicle surgery after taking leave from the game.
Former Scarlet team-mate Emyr Phillips occupies the third hooker spot after featuring on the summer tour of Japan. Both Luke Charteris and Aaron Jarvis return after long-term injuries, and Mike Phillips' indiscretions at club level have not prevented him from adding to his 77 caps.
The XV to face South Africa: Halfpenny, Walker, Davies, S. Williams, North, Priestland, Phillips; Jenkins, Hibbard, A. Jones, A.W. Jones, Coombs, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau
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