JONES IS THE RIGHT MAN FOR NO.10, INSISTS RING; RBS SIX NATIONS ITALY v WALES at Stadio Flaminio, today, 2.30pm.
HE was a rugby maverick renowned for the unexpected, so you may be surprised to learn that Mark Ring is no fan of the idea of James Hook remaining in the Wales fly-half berth.
Instead Ring, who just like Hook was moved around from No. 10 to centre to full-back during his time as a Wales player, believes Stephen Jones should stay in the pivotal role for the rest of the Six Nations.
Hook, instead, according to Ring, should be handed the inside centre duty on a permanent basis.
The debate about Hook's best position will continue to rage, but many pundits argued that his performance in the 24-6 win against Scotland at Murrayfield a fortnight ago proved his stand-off credentials once and for all.
But Ring sees it differently. Even though, given Hook's penchant for doing things off-the-cuff, you would have thought the former Cardiff play-maker would be an admirer.
"I have thought Stephen Jones to be our best bet at fly-half for a while and I have seen nothing thus far in the tournament to change my mind," said Ring.
"Scott Johnson is right in my view about James, he is a natural No.12 because he is so adaptable.
"Stephen remains the one with all the experience and the one who is better at controlling Test matches.
"I just think he understands the fly-half role better than James Hook does, though that is not to say James cannot play there.
"He can, and I think he will again in the future. But I have always extolled the virtues of him as a 12."
Jones was dropped after the defeat to England in the opening match of the Six Nations, with critics demanding more creativity in the backline.
But Ring says many of those calls missed the point.
"If James had played fly-half in that match, he would have been just as confused as Stephen Jones appeared to be," he insisted.
"The bottom line was that Wales failed to work out England's defensive patterns.
"The fault for me in terms of Wales not creating was that the backs as a unit failed to take advantage of overlap opportunities that were created that night.
"Why that was, only Gatland, his coaches and the players will really know."
Given his views on Hook, Ring is non-plussed as to why Wales are employing Hook at outside centre for the clash with Italy today.
While the mounting injuries to centres gave Warren Gatland precious few midfield options, Ring says Hook's presence at No. 13 today is an 'utter waste'.
He believes that Jamie Roberts should have stayed in that role - and his reasons why are compelling.
"Wales have missed the opportunity to play a fly-half and a second five-eighth in the classic New Zealand way," he said.
"I remember Grant Fox and Warwick Taylor doing it in the early Eighties, the idea being that, in effect, you play with two fly-halves, one at 10, one at 12. It's like operating with two central midfielders in football, only the 10 is the initial decision maker and the 12 the secondary one.
"A 12 has that split-second longer to make decisions, but he should be able to slot into the 10 position if needed and vice-versa.
"A 12 must have a good pass off both hands, be able to play with his head up and boss people around and be prepared to drop little kicks over defences if needs be.
"James Hook can do all that, Jamie Roberts can't. With respect, Jamie doesn't have a kicking game, he is there to smash up the field.
"And that is why he would be better off staying at 13 where he was against Scotland and coming in to 12 in certain situations when specific calls have been made.
"Playing Hook at 13 just defeats the object of him being in the team because it's the easiest position on the park to play as there's no decision-making required."
Wales gave themselves a long-awaited lift with their win in Scotland, and Ring doesn't believe they are that far off where they want to be.
"I actually agreed with Gatland when he said he thought Wales were better against England than Scotland," he added.
"Wales have to concentrate on executing well, limiting the costly unforced errors and going through the phases at high tempo.
"When they do that they are effective and can be a match for any of the other sides in the tournament."
James Hook kicks as Stephen Jones looks on during Wales training at Rome's Stadio Flaminio yesterday ahead of today's Six Nations clash with Italy The great entertainer Mark Ring
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|Publication:||South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Feb 26, 2011|
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