Ryan the Lion with happy memories of life with Clive

Many have carped about the tour, but the dynamic young Welsh flanker loved it. By Hugh Godwin
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The Independent Online

So it is a relief to slump on a sofa next to Ryan Jones and hear the Ospreys and Wales back- rower say in his good-humoured baritone: "I don't have a celebrity girlfriend and I've always got time for people as long as they're polite enough."

In one corner there are studio lights set up for a photo-shoot for Jones and several other members of Wales's Grand Slam team to help publicise the new black change-jersey made by Reebok to commemorate the Welsh Rugby Union's 125th anniversary. Shane Williams, Martyn Williams, Michael Owen and Gethin Jenkins are milling about, waiting their turn. Oh, and Gavin Henson, whose name you may have come across once or twice in the past week, is here too, chatting away amiably without making any comment about his soon-to-be-published book.

Jones is a team-mate of Henson with the Ospreys, Wales and the Lions, so what does he make of the criticism of Sir Clive Woodward and the 2005 tour? "I haven't got a bad word to say about it. I'm forever indebted to Clive for the opportunity he gave me [as a replacement for the injured Scot, Simon Taylor], I had a whale of a time and it's something I will treasure forever.

"What's gone is gone, you know. Certain people did feel aggrieved after the tour, but all the moaning and bitching in the world now can't change it. It's been, it's gone, you've just got to learn from it. The only way to prove it is to put on your boots and do the job you're paid to do and love doing. Let the public make up their own view."

This and more in the same vein is delivered without side or ill feeling. When the 24-year-old Jones nods in Henson's direction it is with a tolerant look in the eyes, although most of Wales must have welcomed the carefully coiffeured centre's fresh promise that he is to rein in the party lifestyle.

Jones favours a thoroughly unkempt surf-dude thatch which is as hidden by a scrum cap during matches as his rampaging ball-carrying and thumping defence is eye-catching.

"Gav gets the attention," says Jones, "and Shane [Williams] is the same in Swansea. That's the way that they have chosen to go: they are backs, they score loads of tries and I'm not jealous. It always puts a smile on my face if people come up for an autograph. I have lived in Cardiff for six or seven years now, and for the first five or six no one cared who I was."

That they care now is down to Jones's remarkable 12 months or so, which was given impetus by his debut for Wales against South Africa last November. The drawback this season is that the 6ft 5in converted lock has been waylaid by a chipped collarbone in his left shoulder. The injury would be less perturbing if Jones's diary of opponents for the next six weekends did not read Stade Français, Clermont Auvergne, New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia.

True, he might get the Fiji match off for good behaviour. But the Ospreys' opening two fixtures in the fearfully tough Heineken Cup Pool Three, followed by Wales's first triple-header against the southern- hemisphere powers, would be enough to make a lesser man's lower lip tremble, never mind his shoulder. After just 40 minutes' action against Bath last Sunday, Jones knows the clock is ticking.

"The pressure's on because I want to try to get some form back and lay last season to rest. I felt good last week if a little rusty, and it was just unfortunate to get a bump on the same shoulder just before half-time. There's no soft-tissue damage, so when the pain dies down a bit I'll be fine. The aim is to play next week, but I'm not going to jeopardise my health long-term. I'd dearly love to be involved in the autumn internationals."

With so much on his plate Jones has parked the jet-ski he uses in his spare time in Swansea Bay and Tenby ("it's a bit white-knuckle, but I could never see me having a hobby sitting in the house"). He is aware that Neath, Swansea and the Ospreys have lost 11 out of 11 matches in France down the years, so dual French opposition in the Heineken appears more than a little ominous for the Ospreys and their cluttered injury list, and then there's Leicester. On the other hand, Jones was in the Wales team in the Six Nations who won in Paris and beat England.

"France holds no fear," he says. "Too many times people get caught up in this French factor, just because it's unknown. The Ospreys have a young squad and we've got to learn how to win these big games. We hope to make steady progress, and the aim is to win Europe; that's the big carrot. We've got the facilities and the players to do it."

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