James Hook can fill gap left by Gavin Henson injury

By Gareth RobertsBBC Sport Wales
Gavin Henson and James Hook in 2008
Gavin Henson and James Hook assess their options against Scotland in 2008

For 30 minutes the doubters were silenced. Then, Gavin Henson became the latest victim of Wales' World Cup build-up, departing their 19-9 win over England with what was later diagnosed as a dislocated wrist.

If, as seems likely, his World Cup dream is over, Henson may at least be able to console himself in time with the knowledge that he ably stated and proved the case for Wales coach Warren Gatland to employ an attacking, footballing threat at inside centre.

Seven days earlier, Morgan Stoddart's broken leg put paid to the Scarlets man's dream of going to New Zealand.

At least in Stoddart's case he is of an age that gives him the chance to target the 2015 tournament in England.

But for Henson, four years hence may prove one rugby ambition too far. He will be 33 by the time that competition takes place.

Having missed out on selection in 2003 and 2007 when Steve Hansen and Gareth Jenkins respectively were in charge, Henson's hopes of appearing in the sport's most prestigious competition seem doomed.

In his time at the helm, Gatland has made little secret of his admiration for what Henson can deliver on the field.

No matter what off-field issues surrounding the former Osprey have come to the fore, Henson - when fit and involved in rugby - has been welcomed into Gatland's fold.

The New Zealander's desire to see Jamie Roberts' power alongside Henson's athletic guile in midfield has almost been a holy selection grail.

Add James Hook to the mix at fly-half and Welsh fans will tell you they have a world-beating combination.

Ironically for those fans, Hook only moved from full-back into that role against England at the Millennium Stadium at half-time when the impressive Rhys Priestland departed with a thigh injury.

And Hook's outing in the number 15 jersey only came about in the wake of Stoddart's injury and the fitness concerns over Leigh Halfpenny (ankle) and Lee Byrne (knee), who have now been declared fit for next Saturday's Test against Argentina.

In the wake of the win over England, Gatland also told the media that experienced British & Irish Lions such as Gethin Jenkins and Martyn Williams are likely to line up against the Pumas.

Stephen Jones is also in line for a recall to the match squad following the calf strain that forced him out ahead of Wales' 23-19 defeat by England at Twickenham on 6 August.

But having seen his side's cutting edge return with Henson at inside centre, Gatland must now ponder the alternatives.

Hook's versatility could well see him thrust back into centre, certainly by the time Wales' World Cup kicks off against South Africa in Wellington on 11 September.

The combination of Roberts and Jonathan Davies has produced some promise, but in Henson's absence, Hook would be the only option to add variety and poise to Wales' attacking play in midfield.

That prospect was also enhanced by the way Priestland has catapulted himself into the World Cup fly-half reckoning.

"When he was on Rhys did some really good things and looked really dangerous," Gatland noted approvingly.

"I think we have got not just two, but three, very good 10s who can do a job for us."

If Jones, Hook and Priestland are all set to travel to New Zealand, elsewhere the margin for debate on selection for the World Cup is tightening for players such as number eight Gareth Delve, prop Scott Andrews, hooker Ken Owens and thus-far unused back-row men Jonathan Thomas and Andy Powell.

Likewise Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric, an unused replacement at the Millennium Stadium, may yet see his World Cup fate rest on how veteran Martyn Williams performs against the Pumas.

Gatland watched Delve when Melbourne Rebels played the first game of their European tour at Bath on Friday.

And hooker Owens did duty off the Scarlets bench in their pre-season warm-up against Rotherham on Saturday.

The decision to release Delve and Owens to play at least gave the duo game time, but not on the stage on which they would have liked to appear.

Wales' preliminary World Cup squad

Forwards: Scott Andrews, Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Paul James (Ospreys), Ken Owens, Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton, Martyn Williams (Blues), Luke Charteris, Danny Lydiate, Toby Faletau (Dragons), Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Josh Turnbull, (Scarlets),Gareth Delve (Melbourne Rebels), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks).

Backs: Michael Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies, Stephen Jones, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne), Aled Brew (Dragons), Shane Williams (Ospreys), George North (Scarlets).

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