A surprise inclusion amongst the replacements for tonight's Magners League opener against Connacht in Galway, James Hook says that he's looking forward to pulling on an Ospreys shirt again this weekend.
With the Ospreys' Lions tourists expected to sit out the opening weeks of the season having not returned to pre-season training until August, the inclusion of Hook and fellow half-back Mike Phillips for the difficult trip to The Sportsground has certainly caused a few raised eyebrows outside of the Ospreys camp.
However, Hook himself says that he's feeling good after enjoying pre-season and is raring to go once more. He commented: "It's a little bit of a surprise to be involved in the first game of the season I suppose, I can see where people are coming from when they say that they were shocked to read the team, but everything's gone pretty well in training and I'm looking forward to it. I'm up to speed with the calls and the structures and everything, so I'm pretty much ready to play. I was probably looking at playing again next week or the week after anyway so it's no big change really for me to be on the bench this weekend.
"I'm at the stage now where I'm hitting the fitness targets so I'm just as well being involved in the game as sticking to training, now I can concentrate on getting my match fitness and sharpness where it should be. You can train all you want, there's nothing like getting match time under your belt so I'm looking forward to pulling on the Ospreys shirt and getting out there again at some stage. I know that it's one thing being eager to play, it's another actually being fit enough, but the coaching team are happy with my condition and feel that it's in my best interests to be playing again, and if I'm honest, I can't wait. There's nothing worse than being wrapped in cotton wool."
Hook will be well aware of the challenges that face the Ospreys in Galway, where the weather often provides as stern a challenge as the opposition, as was the case last September when he kicked 11 points as the Ospreys opened their season with a 16-3 win in Connacht, played out in monsoon conditions. He believes that after two good wins in pre-season, Friday's opposition will provide a real test to start the season:
"Connacht's a tough place to go, it's going to be hard out there, they are a physical side and you can pretty much guarantee that it's going to be windy and it's going to be wet. It was like that last year when we went out there for the first game of the season, but we handled the opposition and the conditions well to come out on top and we'll have to do the same again. We know it's going to be tough, it'll be a test, but we know what we have to do.
"It's important to start the season in the right way, and make a statement about where we are, so it's going to be an interesting game. The boys have had two great performances in pre-season against Guinness Premiership sides. I know that it was a bit mix and match with a lot of changes during the games, but to go away somewhere like Gloucester and get something there will certainly give us a lift and will help with the confidence ahead of a long and difficult season. What we need to do now is take that confidence into Friday's game and use it to kick on from there."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.