James Hook will make it his business to inspire the next generation of Welsh playmakers as he sets sights on becoming a best-selling author as well as a top kicking coach.
Hook, 34, confirmed his retirement a fortnight ago, bringing down the curtain on a hugely successful career in which he won 81 Wales caps, two Celtic League titles with the Ospreys and came so close to helping his country reach the 2011 World Cup final.
Although his maverick tendencies split opinion at times, Hook’s versatility stood him in good stead with Wales until Warren Gatland elected not to pick him after 2015.
Hook told The Rugby Paper: “When you look back, it’s not a bad career, is it? People say I should have had a few more caps, but I kind of knew the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against South Africa would be my last game because I’d been going out of favour with the coaches.
“I wish Warren had picked me a bit more but I can’t grumble really because between 2008, when we won the Grand Slam, and 2011, I started a lot of games. There were so many different opinions around whether I should have played at 10, 12, 13 or 15, but I’d just like to be remembered as someone who did their best wherever they were asked to play.
“Should I have stood my ground and said, ‘No, I just want to play at 10’? I could have, but when you’re asked to play for your country, whatever the position, you have to take it.
“I always go back to the 2011 Six Nations where I’d established myself as a 10, but I started against England at 15, played against Scotland at 10 and then started against Ireland at 13 after Jonathan Davies got injured. We won all three matches and it was easy for the coaches to slot me in where I was needed, so that was the story of my Test career.”
From being at the sharp end of playing for so long, Hook has fresh ambitions.
He explained: “I want to go into coaching in some capacity. I’ve been doing my Level 3 course and the WRU put together a professional player’s programme that I’ve been doing with the likes of Paul James, Leigh Halfpenny and Justin Tipuric, so that’s been good.
“I’d like to go into a kicking coach role, which I’ve sort of been doing with the Ospreys anyway with the young academy boys and some of the senior guys as well. Beyond that, I’ve been writing some children’s rugby books which are just about to be published.”
Hook’s first book, Chasing A Rugby Dream, is due out this October, with the former Perpignan and Gloucester star adding: “It’s a children’s book based on my rugby experiences growing up and my professional career through the eyes of a ten-year-old called Jimmy.
“I talk about my life at different stages, the ups and downs of my career, and I’d really like to inspire the younger generation. As a young player, I remember Neil Jenkins coming down to the Ospreys to take us kicking and I used to love working with him – that’s the reason I work with academy boys now because it was really important for me.
“It’s a two-book contract initially, with the first due out in October and the second after Christmas, so hopefully there’ll be lots of interest and the character will grow.”
Whether Hook will be around to help kick-start an Ospreys revival as part of a new-look backroom team remains to be seen, but he is optimistic about their future.
He said: “I’ve heard a lot of good things about Toby Booth, our new head coach, and we’ve got new financial backers.
“Gareth Anscombe is coming back from injury and we still have a lot of top-quality internationals, so if we can build our strength-in-depth the future will be bright.”
Hook is backing Anscombe to push Dan Biggar hard on his return for Wales, adding: “Dan keeps answering his critics and he’s added to his game at Northampton, but Anscombe brings a different dimension to the attack
“Rhys Patchell has been getting an opportunity and Sam Davies has been playing really well for the Dragons, so if everyone’s fit there’s great competition for Wales at 10.”
Reflecting on the highs and lows of his Wales career, Hook adds: “The highlights are obviously the Grand Slams in 2008 and 2012 and the Six Nations title in 2013, with 2008 probably being the most memorable because it was my first Slam.
“The low point has to be that 9-8 World Cup semi-final loss to France in 2011. It wasn’t just down to Sam Warburton’s sending off, Stephen Jones and I both missed kicks and it was very hard to take at the time.
“We believe we could have beaten New Zealand in the final – 100 per cent. They were carrying injuries and only just managed to beat France in the end.”
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