James Hook: It was a "no-brainer" to play against the Lions

Hook is one of only five players to play for and against the team

BY Daniel Kelly 14:10 Thursday 8 June 2017, 14:10 8 Jun 2017

James Hook celebrates after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

James Hooks is Lions #769, but he is part on an even more exclusive club in Lions folklore.

In 2013, the 31-year-old became the third player to play for and against the Lions. Since then, Elliot Daly and Jared Payne have joined Hook, Riki Flutey and Tom Reid in an exclusive corner of Lions history. 

Hook played for the Barbarians against the Lions in Hong Kong. Four years previously, he was part of the Lions side in South Africa.

The Welsh international played the final 12 minutes of the game. When he came on, he joined an uncapped English player in the centre. That player was Elliot Daly.

"I'd roomed with Elliot with the Barbarians", Hook told Newstalk.com this week. "He was one of the uncapped players in the squad. He's a great bloke. You could see he has everything. He has a great chance of being in the matchday 23 for the First Test."

For Hook, his Lions career began with a false start. The Wales international was not picked in Ian McGeechan's initial touring party. He was called up as a replacement for the injured Leigh Halfpenny, just before the team flew to South Africa.

Despite missing out on the original selection, Hook flew with the team to South Africa. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

"There was a lot of Ospreys and Welsh players named in the squad... I wasn't one of those initially. It was complete disappointment.

"The night before we were due to leave for Canada, I had a few missed calls from Ian McGeechan. He was great. He asked me if I wanted to go on the Lions tour. I was delighted."

Ahead of the initial squad selection, Hook played for the Ospreys against Munster in a Heineken Cup quarter-final. The Welsh side lost 43-9, and the fly-half felt his performance in that game may have caused him to miss out on the original squad.

"I remember Rob Howley ringing me up before the Munster game saying; 'If you play well in this, you'll go [on Tour]'. We lost heavily. It didn't help my cause.

"The squad didn't leave for South Africa before I joined. They were still in London. I felt I was part of the whole Tour, and not just a bit part."

In the buildup to the First Test, Hook was one of the busiest players on Tour. He played in five consecutive matches, whether as a starter, or coming on as a replacement. The versatility that saw him replace Leigh Halfpenny, was key to being such an active player on Tour, he revealed.

James Hook runs in for a try against the Golden Lions. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Hook was not involved in the opening two Tests, but took his spot on the bench for the final Test. Despite the Lions win in the final match against the Springboks, it was a bittersweet experience for Hook.

He was the only replacement not to see action on the field. He admitted it was still "bitterly disappointing."

"At the time, I didn't realise how disappointing it would be. When we talk now it hits home. We won the game quite comfortably. It would have been nice to play a few minutes.

"Although I didn't get on the pitch in the third Test, I took everything in from what it was like in a Lions Test match."

Hook felt it was a long-shot to be picked for the 2013 Tour, and revealed he accepted an offer from the Barbarians to play for the invitational side on the provision he was not picked to play in Australia.

"I bit their hand off. The chance to play against England and the Lions was a no-brainer for me. Although we lost both games, the experience of playing with the Barbarians was fantastic.

"I knew it was quite rare to play for and against the Lions but I didn't know though how unique the group was."

Despite the disappointing start to the Lions series this year, Hook is still hopeful Warren Gatland's side can impress against New Zealand.

Hook (22) played for the Barbarians against the Lions in 2013. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

"It's the strongest Lions squad that I can remember. There is such strength and depth there... It all depends on how many injuries they pick up. Most warm-up matches will be played like Test matches.

"If they can get a strong, fully-fit squad leading up to the Tests, they have as good a chance as New Zealand have.

"As a young rugby player, you think of playing for the Lions... To get that phone call from Ian McGeechan - it's hard to explain. I was over the moon.

"In 20 or 30 years time, I'll be able to show my boys videos of games on the Tour. It will all become a bit more real then."

After spells in Perpignan and Gloucester, Hook returns to the Ospreys to end his playing career with a three-year deal, at the club where he began his professional career.

"They've got a fantastic squad there. If I can come in and help that squad in any way I can, that's what I plan to do."

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