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Hook launches Testimonial year

James Hook launched his Testimonial year at Principality Stadium on Friday night

Hook launches Testimonial year

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James Hook had one of Welsh rugby’s most glittering careers. It was one which deserved to end with him being carried aloft by his team-mates in front of a sold-out stadium.

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Sadly for Hook, no such finale came his way.

In the middle of lockdown last year and with his Ospreys contract coming to an end, the now 36-year-old knew his time was up.

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“It was a strange end to my career and I suppose sad really,” Hook said. “My last appearance was against Leinster at The Gnoll which was at the end of February 2020.

“My first appearance for the Ospreys was at The Gnoll too so maybe it was fitting!

“Then Covid-19 hit and we didn’t know when the games would restart. I was always optimistic there would be matches before the end of my contract which was at the end of that season.

“As we all know now, that wasn’t the case. Just before my contract ran out, I was back and forth to Llandarcy where we trained with the Ospreys.

“As time went on and Covid got worse not better, I realised my fate.

“It was disappointing because it all ended one day when I went in and picked up my things from the kitman. I packed them in the box and that was that!

“It wasn’t the way I would have wanted to finish, but I can’t complain too much because I had a really enjoyable career.”

James Hook in the home dressing room at Principality Stadium after launching his Testimonial

It wasn’t the way I would have wanted to finish, but I can’t complain too much because I had a really enjoyable career

Hook certainly did.

He won 81 caps for Wales, won two Six Nations Grand Slams, one Six Nations title, and played at three Rugby World Cups.

He toured South Africa with the British & Irish Lions in 2009 and with the Ospreys, won two league titles. His club career also took him to Perpignan in France’s TOP14 and Gloucester.

Now, after some delay because of Covid, Hook is ready to look back on it all with a Testimonial year which he launched at Principality Stadium on Friday evening.

“It was a real shame I couldn’t have one last game with my family there. My middle boy still asks me when my last game is going to be,” Hook said.

“I can tell him now that’s going to be my Testimonial match on June 11 at The Gnoll.

“That was delayed because of Covid, but I’m looking forward to that not just for me, but for my family too. The Gnoll has played a big part in my career.

“I started and finished there for the Ospreys and also had a couple of years with Neath before that. It’s all come together a little bit because it’s Neath’s 150th anniversary this year.

It was a real shame I couldn’t have one last game with my family there. My middle boy still asks me when my last game is going to be. I can tell him now that’s going to be my testimonial match on June 11 at The Gnoll

“I’m another year older so might be a yard slower, but it will be very enjoyable. Paul James’ Testimonial there a few years ago was an amazing atmosphere.

“I would have loved to have played, but I was still contracted to the Ospreys at the time.

“Having a Testimonial definitely does make me feel old! But I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have it. We’re supporting two great charities in Wales Air Ambulance and Mind.

“It will be good to give back to those and at the same time, get my last game done and dusted.”

James Hook’s last game was for Ospreys against Leinster in February 2020

After retirement, Hook has thrown himself into his new career.

He coaches at academy level with the Ospreys and also at Swansea University.

There is media work too and a flourishing venture writing children’s books.

Hook’s first book Chasing a Rugby Dream was named the Best Children’s Sports Book of the Year for 2021.

Looking back on his rugby career is something Hook will do plenty of during his Testimonial year and it’s fair to say there is lots to analyse.

From his first cap in Argentina in 2006 to his last at the 2015 World Cup, Hook dazzled with his ability in the back-line seeing him compared to some of the greatest Wales players of all time like Phil Bennett and others.

“There were so many highs. There was winning my first cap and the England game in 2007 is one which stands out because it was my first big game starting at 10 for Wales,” Hook said.

“If we’d lost that game, we’d have been staring at the wooden spoon so I was glad we won and I was man of the match. Then there was the 2008 Grand Slam.

“We beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years. These are the memories which stick out.

“The other one is the 2009 Lions tour. It was amazing, but the one disappointment I have is I didn’t get on for the last Test. I was on the bench and we were 19 points up.

“I was the only unused replacement for some reason.

“To be honest, I think the coaches were so busy celebrating the win they forgot I was still on the bench!

“No Welsh team has done what we did with the Ospreys.

We beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years. These are the memories which stick out

“The players we had in the team were phenomenal. We had great Welsh players like Shane Williams, Mike Phillips, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones and Lee Byrne, but the overseas boys were different level.

“We had Jerry Collins, Justin Marshall, Filo Tiatia, Marty Holah and loads more.

“That’s the reason why we won so many league titles. Europe was the one which got away from us.

“We had two Heineken Cup quarter-finals and with the squad we had, we should have gone further.

“I’ve got great memories from the Ospreys, particularly my first stint.

“With Wales we had great squads in 2008, 2012 and 2013. The 2011 World Cup was the biggest disappointment. Ask anyone who was in that squad and they’ll say the same.

“I still think about it now as one that got away. It was so frustrating. I try not to think about the France semi-final too much. We lost that game and what did I have to do next?

“I had to move to France to sign for Perpignan!”

James Hook had a glittering Test career which saw him play at three Rugby World Cups with Wales

So, what of Wales’ current crop?

Wayne Pivac’s injury-plagued squad won two of their four autumn games, ending a campaign which began with back-to-back defeats to New Zealand and South Africa with wins over Fiji and Australia.

“I remember last autumn Wales were getting written off. It takes time and to turn things around from the poor autumn we had to winning the Six Nations was very impressive,” Hook said.

“It’s just been a shame for this campaign that so many players have been injured. But I am still positive and you can see what they’re trying to do.

“The style of play and brand of rugby is definitely the way forward. It’s certainly one I’d have liked to have been involved in!”

For more information on James Hook’s Testimonial year, click here.

James Hook at his Testimonial launch at Principality Stadium

I remember last autumn Wales were getting written off. It takes time and to turn things around from the poor autumn we had to winning the Six Nations was very impressive

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