Jones happy to be old dog among Wales' young pups
Veteran forward knows what it takes to win at English HQ but predicts a snarl-up on Saturday
As Wales prepare to head to Twickenham on Saturday, the old dog has a message for the young pups. Expect a snarl-up like no other, in a pen like no other.
Ryan Jones's voice of caution will definitely be heard, despite a young Welsh team still riding high on their World Cup wave. But then, the 30-year-old does happen to be the only captain to have led Wales to victory at English HQ in the last 24 years. To put that in context, not one of Wales's six tries in the Championship thus far has been scored by a player who was alive when Adrian Hadley went over for his match-winning double in 1988.
So the record books are ganging up against Wales, even if the bookmakers, with their odds of 4-7, are in their corner. Jones appears to understand his country's shortfall in south-west London.
"Twickenham's a tough place to go," he said, at Wales's team hotel yesterday. "If you haven't been there, if you haven't experienced it, you don't what's coming. It's not like a hostile French environment, or a packed, vocal Arms Park. There's a lot of history there, there's a stigma..."
Anybody who knows anything about cross-border skirmishes will realise the stigma has not just emerged in the 13-game spell during which Wales have recorded the solitary victory. Playing, and yes, winning, at Twickenham has always represented more than a mere rugby tussle in Wales. But Jones is not about to go there; he prefers to concentrate on exactly how Wales can make it two from three.
"For us to go up there and win, we will need to be ready for them to try to impose themselves at the set piece, we will need to be clinical and we will need to be disciplined," he said. "All teams make mistakes, but it's how you are punished for them that counts. If you can minimise that in terms of points scored against you, you will win matches.
"When we won at Twickenham four years ago, we were considered fortunate because we got caught early on. But because we limited the damage we were still in contention at half-time. What is great about this Wales team is we're far more clinical than in the past. We've always been relatively creative, but now we are taking the opportunities".
Jones has grasped his own chance like the proverbial hound with a bone. Before the Six Nations he was generally regarded as no more than a reliable squad member. There was simply no splitting up the mighty back-row trio of Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau and, of course, the new captain, Sam Warburton. Ryan would just have to sit out. But then Lydiate tweaked his troublesome ankle and Jones stepped in and was so impressive against Ireland in the opening win that when the blindside made his recovery, Warren Gatland felt obliged to include Jones anyway. Injuries in the second row entailed a shift in position, but with another barnstormer against Scotland, Jones all but secured his place for Twickenham. There is plainly a lot of life left yet.
"I'd like to think I was still competitive," said Jones. "It's like being the old dog amongst the young pups; with a bit of a growl, a bark and a bite. That's the truth of it."
Jones is selling himself short, as he is evidently capable of learning new tricks. He has played in the boiler room for his region, the Ospreys, on many occasions, but more in the role of roving handyman. In the Gatland game plan there are clearly defined duties for an expert.
"It can be difficult at times as second row doesn't come second-nature to me. That's because I haven't got that experience or the game-time to draw upon. But I am giving it a good go. I just want to be involved," he said.
Which rugby player worthy of his scars wouldn't want to be involved in a set-up including the likes of George North, Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and more potential than you could shake a leek at. Jones wouldn't be the first to be rejuvenated by the elixir of youth. "You know I have been involved in Wales squads before when there has been an older element, but now the majority are younger players," said Jones, a veteran of 60 caps. "There is a youthful exuberance, and all the kids are great kids, which is what makes it such an enjoyable place to be."
The business is more than a match for the pleasure, however, and if England should fear anything Jones says it is his assessment of this unit in comparison to his previous glory boys. "I've been involved in two Grand Slams before, but I think both of them came out of the blue," said Jones. "This campaign feels the most settled and constructive in the sense we've built on foundations. There is a confidence where we are going into a game with a plan and we are implementing it."
Twickenham, as well as the young pups, has been warned.
Wales v England at Twickenham
Twenty-four years of (mostly) Welsh hurt:
2011: Lost 23-19 (World Cup warm-up)
2010: Lost 30-17
2008: Won 26-19
2007: Lost 62-5 (World Cup warm-up)
2006: Lost 47-13
2004: Lost 31-21
2002: Lost 50-10
2000: Lost 46-12
1998: Lost 60-26
1996: Lost 21-15
1994: Lost 15-8
1992: Lost 24-0
1990: Lost 34-6
1988: Won 11-3
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