Lions tour: Pack mentality shows scrum still has big role
Adam Jones is smarting from criticism of the Welsh forwards. Soon he can prove his point on a Lions tour
It has been a week for the Welsh to prove the adage that history is written by the winners. "Feel free to ask me about the scrum comments made by Graham Rowntree and Scott Johnson," said Adam Jones, the Wales tighthead prop, with a wicked baritone chuckle. "I'd quite happily give you an opinion on them." The time when he will join forces with Rowntree, England's forwards coach, under the banner of the British & Irish Lions is nigh – but not just yet.
"As much as I appreciate that as a coach you have to back your boys I was surprised England came out and criticised the referee so much," Jones said, referring to the midweek barbs aimed by Rowntree and his England boss, Stuart Lancaster, at Steve Walsh's handling of the scrum and breakdown in Wales's 30-3 thrashing of their team in the Six Nations' Championship decider in Cardiff. "I was surprised [to hear it] from 'Wig' [Rowntree]. We've always got on – when we played against each other and when he was a coach with the 2009 Lions. It's frustrating when Wales have done well, but it's as if people don't want to see us do well and just want to think of any excuse."
Jones was even more unimpressed with Johnson, the interim Scotland coach. "He said we were cheating in the scrum at Murrayfield. But there's three calls – crouch, touch, set – and if you go before 'set' you're cheating the engagement and it was blatantly obvious that's what Scotland were doing."
What these verbal rucks emphasise is the continuing central role of the scrum – albeit frustratingly in the concession of penalties, as England suffered in bucketloads in Cardiff against Jones, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins and friends. Rowntree wasted no time getting it off his chest at the post-match dinner, knowing that in Test terms the Australians are next, and Jones is a dead cert to be among the Lions' front-row resources.
"Wig came over and called me a very rude name but it was all in good humour and we had a pint together," said Jones. "I like to think I'm very much like him. I'm an old-school type of player, rather than – as you can see – one of these athletes." And it is true Jones used to play overweight and famously was substituted in internationals after half an hour.
It is even possible to underestimate his talents now, but review the 73 minutes he played against England before a Millennium Stadium standing ovation, and look beyond the curls flopping over his eyes, the mainsail pair of shorts and the comical gurning as he catches his breath standing behind a goal-kicker.
Count instead the incessant tackles around the fringes – not for Jones the TV-friendly "big hit" – and of course the scrummaging. Jones's dismissive snort of a refusal to engage when Mako Vunipola replaced the embarrassed Joe Marler for England and struck a position low to the ground with barely a gap for Jones to put his head into was a sure sign that the Welshman, at 32 years of age and 12 caps short of his target of a century for Wales, is at his prime. "I shouldn't have someone trying to headbutt me into the scrum," the hairy hero of the hour said. "To be fair, the referee got that right, from the start."
Tightheads are highly prized, and it was "touch and go" whether Jones would accept a big offer to move to a French club early last year. He did not want to uproot his wife, Nicole, and daughter, Isla, who will be two in May. But it is likely to be different in summer 2014 when Jones's Ospreys contract is up, and he will consider a lucrative move from the region he was born into in Abercrave just after the golden rugby era of the 1970s.
For now Ospreys are aiming to win a fifth league title in nine years through the play-offs; in the same period, starting with the 2004-05 season, Wales have won the Six Nations four times. The gap is in between, with Europe passing all the Welsh regions by once again this season.
Jones's 2009 Lions trip ended with a dislocated shoulder in the second Test from a shocking challenge over a ruck by Bakkies Botha. In 2005 Jones had played the first of his three Grand Slams with Wales, but John Hayes, Matt Stevens and Julian White were picked for the Lions ahead of him.
"I would like to go again," Jones said, knowing that he is likely to do so alongside the more all-court Dan Cole of England. "The Australians have strengthened their scrum, with [tighthead] Ben Alexander a big part of that."
And does Jones think all 23 Welshmen from the England win – plus the injured Ryan Jones – deserve to be on the plane? "Flip back seven weeks and maybe eight of the boys would have been guaranteed," Jones said. "Now, [Justin] Tipuric has come through, Bigs [Dan Biggar] has had a good Six Nations…
"The Welsh pack in the last three games have put a pretty strong case to go out as a unit. But I don't think they'll pick it that way."
Ospreys play Cardiff Blues on 'Judgement Day' at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday, kick-off 5.15pm
Jones goes for Jones as captain
Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, will name his tour squad on 30 April, and Adam Jones echoed former Wales wing Shane Williams and 1997 and 2001 Lions skipper Martin Johnson with a vote for Ospreys' Alun Wyn Jones as captain. "I haven't heard anything, but if they did name Alun Wyn captain I wouldn't be at all surprised," the prop said. "I don't think people realise how good he is. He is massive at 6ft 6in, 19 stone, but he has the work-rate of a blindside. He captains us with the Ospreys very well. I am sure that people from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties might have something to say, but for me he's the best Welsh second- row we've ever had, and people should start realising that now."
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