James Hook and Ross Ford have been called up to the Lions squad to tour South Africa.
Hook has been off form in recent weeks and is a surprise inclusion for countryman Leigh Halfpenny, who is expected to miss the first two weeks of the tour. Unlike Peter de Villiers’s views, Lions coach Ian McGeechan said goal-kicking was vital in adding the flyhalf-cum-centre in place of a wing.
‘We decided that James was the ideal person to come into the tour squad,’ said McGeechan. ‘A very important consideration for us was to strengthen the goal-kicking options in the squad.
‘James is an accomplished goal-kicker and has scored over 200 points for his country in his 33 appearances. Also, he has played at flyhalf, centre and fullback for Wales but is also comfortable at outside centre.’
McGeechan said Hook’s relationship with other Welsh backs further emphasised his value.
‘He is very familiar with other backs in the squad having played in the same Welsh team as Mike Phillips, Stephen Jones, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams and Lee Byrne.’
Ireland’s Jerry Flannery, who was expected to start at hooker in the Tests, chipped a bone in his elbow at training on Wednesday, while Ford beat off competition from Irish second-choice Rory Best.
‘It’s a great honour. I’m chuffed to bits. “Geech” phoned me and said: ‘I think you know why I’m calling’,’ said Ford.
The 30-capped No 2 said the 1997 side’s victory in South Africa had inspired him.
‘I remember buying the “Living with the Lions” video after the tour and just about wearing it out through watching it so often,’ he said, ‘and learning a few new words from Jim Telfer too!
‘To be selected is a great honour – right up there with my best rugby achievements, but until I actually play and win in the jersey, I haven’t really done the hard bit yet.’