Alun-Wyn Jones: 'the common goal is to win'

Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones is likely to face the mighty task of dismantling South Africa's legendary lineout this summer. The part-time law student puts his case for a Lions Test victory
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The Independent Online

Should Alun-Wyn Jones or any of his fellow Welsh second rows make it on to the field during the forthcoming Lions Test series, it will end a 20-year stretch without a Welshman in the engine room of a Lions Test scrum.

You have to go back to the tour of Australia in 1989 to find Bob Norster packing down in a forward unit that suffered a first Test defeat to the Wallabies.

He was replaced by Wade Dooley for the following two Tests, both of which the Lions won to claim the series.

With a history like that for his predecessors, perhaps it's just as well Jones, who has been hotly tipped to partner Paul O'Connell in the second row of Ian McGeechan's scrummage this summer, is no student of rugby history.

"My rugby knowledge is terrible to be honest," says the Osprey, who has little time to leaf through the mountain of literature that has been compiled across decades of Lions history, given he can barely keep up with his law studies in between a flourishing rugby career.

"I don't really study," he says of his part time degree at Swansea University.

"I call it catch up because my attendance is so bad. They haven't seen me since before Christmas. Straight after Christmas we had the European Cup, then eight to nine weeks of Six Nations, then we were straight into EDF Cup, Magners League, then Europe again.

"I keep in touch though. I've got a scholarship tutor and I'm in touch with the law department and they're very good with me, so it's a case of catching up and doing what I can rather than looking for a first or anything stupid like that."

The 23-year-old's intelligence doesn't stop at the classroom door. On the field he has that pleasing combination of athleticism and nous that allow him to put his considerable talents to their best use.

He is no lumberer - he will make his tackles and hit his rucks but he possesses the game sense to know when he is better used as an extra man in the line when his side has the ball, and makes supporting runs that would grace any back row player's video analysis session. Indeed his qualities have seen him deployed in the No.6 shirt at times.

So far this season has been one of disappointment for Jones and his international-laden Ospreys side, much of it at the hands of Irish opposition.

They lag behind Munster and Leinster in the Magners League and Munster also dumped them out of the Heineken Cup.

Add the fact that former Munster coach Declan Kidney's Ireland, laden with players from that province, rolled into Cardiff and ripped away the Six Nations trophy and Grand Slam in March, and you begin to see that Warren Gatland's suggestion that the Irish were top of any Welshman's list when it came to who they would most like to beat, had more to it than just an attempt at mind games.

"I don't think there's a hatred but there's a definite envy when you look at what Munster have achieved in the European Cup," says Jones.

"And rightly so. I think there is across the board in the northern hemisphere. You don't get to four finals and win two of them without attracting a bit of envy and you become a target for other teams because all those other teams want to emulate what they've achieved," he adds.

There was some consolation for Jones in that his Ospreys team-mate Tommy Bowe was in the Irish side, indeed scored the try that helped them on their way to that nail-biting win at the Millennium Stadium.

"At least we're the only region to have consecutive Grand Slam winners so it's not too bad," laughs Jones. "But if we couldn't win it again I wanted Ireland to. The way they conducted themselves and the way they played, they deserved to win it and I was very pleased for Tommy as a friend and a team-mate that he was part of it."

If the animosity that Gatland hinted at does exist, it will have to be put to one side come May 30th when the Lions begin their tour in Rustenburg.

Twelve years ago, McGeechan engendered a spirit not since seen in a Lions touring party. How confident is Jones that the wily old Scot can do it again?

"First it depends on the individuals," he explains. "The common goal is to win. The Lions is about four nations coming together and as long as common goals are shared by those individuals then the togetherness will come naturally."

It will need to come naturally and quickly. Not since Andy Robinson's England scrapped their way to a 23-21 win at Twickenham in November 2006 have South Africa lost to northern hemisphere opposition, and it has not been for the want of trying.

England toured there the following summer and were well beaten twice before the Boks went on to win the World Cup. Jake White took his team to Cardiff on

a celebratory tour and beat Wales, then last summer, Jones and Wales travelled south as Grand Slam champions and took two consecutive hidings, before losing to them again at home last November.

"I'm quite lucky in that I've played four times against them in a two-year period, even though we didn't win any of them," he says.

"Our best show was the last game we played in the Millennium Stadium which shows we have been improving against them and any British side should take heart from that."

But if it's weakness you're looking for in the Springbok armour, it won't be found in the second row, where Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha have established themselves as the premier partnership in world rugby in just about every facet of forward play.

"They're both very skilful players," says Jones. "You've got the composure of Matfield and the brute force of Botha; they're both highly experienced and they work well together. They are the best second row pair in the world."

Jones continues: "They are potent in both attack and defence and very difficult to play against, and they win a lot of ball at the lineout

"With Matfield, I think his leadership in the set piece is immense, he can win so much opposition ball."

You almost feel he doesn't want to say much more. No point adding to the aura of the man he may well be trying to get the better of in a few weeks time.

Alun-Wyn Jones prefers to let his rugby do the talking.