James Hook is ready to take the chance he has been waiting for all season and guide Wales through a successful Italian job on Saturday.
The Ospreys fly-half makes his first start in this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship after being part of the supporting cast against Scotland, England and France.
Hook had previously been unable to dislodge in-form Scarlets number 10 Stephen Jones during the autumn Tests last year.
But with Wales head coach Warren Gatland making nine changes for an appointment with the Azzurri at Stadio Flaminio, Hook’s patience is finally rewarded.
And a powerful performance against the favourites for the wooden spoon would put Hook in the selection mix for a probable RBS 6 Nations title showdown with Ireland next week.
“This is a chance now to show what I can do,” Hook said. “Hopefully I can put myself in contention for the following week as well.
“I am really pleased to be back. It’s been difficult these last few weeks to budge Stephen because he’s been playing so well.
“It has been frustrating because you want to play in every game, but you just have to accept things and knuckle down.
“I’ve not played much rugby of late and training is nowhere near as good as playing.
“But I just hope I am ready for Test match rugby. I’m confident that I am.”
Wales arrived in a warm and sunny Italian capital today, knowing they must not only record an eighth Six Nations victory from nine starts since Gatland took charge, but also win with something to spare.
Their points difference is currently 23 worse than Ireland’s so a repeat of the 38-8 success during Wales’ 2005 Six Nations title campaign would considerably help their cause.
Gatland is looking for the likes of Hook, props John Yapp and Rhys Thomas, lock Luke Charteris and flanker Dafydd Jones to grasp their opportunities in the spotlight.
Some might say Gatland has gambled by making so many changes, but Hook is not about to question the coach’s wisdom.
“There was probably a little bit of surprise about the number of changes made to the side but I don’t really think you could call it a gamble on Warren’s part,” he added.
“He has faith in all of us as players or he wouldn’t have made these changes.
“We made too many mistakes in the French game (two weeks ago). There were four errors in quick succession leading up to one try, yet we could still have won the game.
“So against Italy it will be about us cutting out the mistakes.
“Italy are maybe not as gifted as other teams in the Six Nations but they are a gutsy side, especially at home. They give 100% every game.
“I’ve already heard someone talk about points differences but we have to get out there and win the game first. Then, hopefully, everything else will follow.”
Hook will link up with fellow Osprey Gavin Henson for the first time this season in a Wales starting XV, and their 10/12 axis is critical to the visitors creating sufficient try-scoring chances.
It could also be a prelude to events with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa later this year.
“Gavin is the type of player who as soon as he is fit is able to come back and play well immediately,” said Hook.
“I am comfortable playing next to him, and I know the feeling is mutual.”
As for the Lions tour, Hook added: “It is in the back of my mind as it is coming to the end of the championship.
“But I am not thinking too much about a Lions place, I am thinking more about getting a Wales place.”