England are likely to have the grand total of one Test Lion in their starting line-up for the white-hot Six Nations meeting with Wales at Twickenham in 11 days' time – Owen Farrell, who won British Isles honours off the bench in Australia last summer – so the challenge of confronting a side armed with 10 such stratospherically high achievers is obvious. Actually, make that a dozen. A bulletin from the Red Dragon camp suggested that both Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies will be in the reigning champions' selection mix at the start of next week.
Jones, the Ospreys lock who led the Lions to a rare series victory on a glorious night in Sydney back in July, has already returned to training after recovering from the foot infection that forced him to miss last Friday night's comprehensive dismantling of the French. As well as the ZZ Top lookalike Jake Ball performed in his stead, all the smart money will be on an immediate return for a player who, on his day, ranks among the finest second-row forwards in the international game.
Davies, the centre who proved too good for Brian O'Driscoll in Wallaby country and ultimately beat him to a place in the Test side, is less certain of a trip to London aboard the team bus, but if he turns it on for Scarlets against Munster in Saturday night's Pro 12 match in Llanelli, the Wales coaches will be sorely tempted to fast-track him into midfield and restore the free-scoring George North to his most effective position on the left wing. Davies has played only 40 minutes of serious rugby since damaging a pectoral muscle against the Springboks last November, but as the similarly deprived England prop David Wilson demonstrated at Twickenham last weekend, a surge of Six Nations adrenaline can work wonders.
"Jonathan has been working incredibly hard with the conditioners and his fitness is excellent," reported Shaun Edwards, the Wales defence coach. "He just needs to gain enough confidence to put his shoulder into a tackle." If Davies does not show quite enough in the way of form this weekend, the exciting North is likely to be given another run in midfield at Twickenham, with Liam Williams, another Scarlets back, holding onto the No 11 shirt.
Meanwhile, one of the most experienced members of the side, the tight-head prop Adam Jones, indicated that he will play out the remainder of his career on home soil rather than chase a hike in pay with a club in England or France.
"I'll probably be staying in Wales and I hope to have everything done this week," said the 32-year-old two-tour Lion, who remains a key figure for the Red Dragon hierarchy as they build towards next year's World Cup – the point at which Jones will surely call time on his Test career. "It's dragging on a bit now, but I have to make sure everything's right."
The Welsh Rugby Union would very much like him to follow the national captain Sam Warburton in applying his thumbprint to a central contract. After failing to persuade the full-back Leigh Halfpenny, the centre Scott Williams and the outside-half Rhys Priestland to sign up with the governing body – not to mention Wyn Jones, who has agreed fresh terms with Ospreys – the powers that be have not enjoyed a fat lot of success with their controversial policy.
Wales are now sixth in the world rankings, up one place as a result of smashing France, who suddenly find themselves slumming it in seventh. England remain fourth, well clear of Ireland.Reuse content