Rugby World Cup 2011: James Hook replaces Rhys Priestland for Wales

James Hook (right) takes over from Rhys Priestland
James Hook's return is the only change to the Wales team that beat Ireland

James Hook will start at fly-half for Wales in Saturday's World Cup semi-final against France in Auckland.

Hook, who has played only three minutes at number 10 during the tournament, replaces the injured Rhys Priestland.

With lock Luke Charteris shaking off a shoulder problem, coach Warren Gatland has otherwise named the same starting XV that beat Ireland in the last eight.

The only other change sees record caps holder Stephen Jones taking Hook's place on the bench.

Wales, aiming to reach their first World Cup final, had been hopeful that Priestland's injury was not serious.

But the 24-year-old, who came into the tournament as Wales' third-choice fly-half, has not been able to train in New Zealand all week after taking a knock to his shoulder in the final stages of the win over Ireland.

It left Gatland with a straight choice between Hook - who played the first two pool games at full-back - and Jones, whose calf injury a month before the start of the World Cup had opened the door for Priestland.

"Time was against Rhys, but we are happy that we have the talent and ability elsewhere in the squad to cover him," said Gatland.

"Rhys has done everything we have asked of him and more during this World Cup, but, when we have players of the calibre and experience of James Hook and Stephen Jones coming into the squad and starting line-up, there is no sense that Rhys's absence leaves us any weaker."

Hook's last appearance at fly-half came in the final World Cup warm-up in August when Wales beat Argentina 28-13 in Cardiff.

The Perpignan-bound 26-year-old had started at 10 in three of last season's Six Nations matches, including the 28-9 defeat by France in Paris.

He started the World Cup campaign at full-back against South Africa and Samoa, but sat out the wins over Namibia and Fiji with a shoulder injury.

His first taste at fly-half came in the dying stages against Ireland when Priestland was forced off with the injury that has cost him his place.

Charteris, Jamie Roberts, George North and captain Sam Warburton sat out training on Tuesday with minor niggles, but all four have been passed fit to face the French.

Once again, eight of Gatland's match-day squad are aged 23 or under, which confirms the impact the younger generation have made during the tournament.

Wales have lost six of their previous seven meetings against France, who have named the same side that beat England 19-12 in the quarter-finals.

Gatland added: "We know that the people in Wales and the fans that have travelled here are excited about reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup and we are too, but beating France on Saturday must be and will be our sole focus.

"The time to reflect and to celebrate will come if we win our next two matches, until that happens our focus on the task ahead must be absolute."

In the previous 88 matches between both nations, Wales have won 43, France 42 with 3 draws.


Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); George North (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); James Hook (Perpignan), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Dragons) Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons).

Replacements: Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Paul James (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

France: Maxime Medard; Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson; Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili; Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat, Nicolas Mas, Pascal Pape, Lionel Nallet, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Julien Bonnaire, Imanol Harinordoquy.

Replacements (from): Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Louis Picamoles, Francois Trinh-Duc, David Marty, Cedric Heymans, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Jean-Marc Doussain.