The prop with the mop who is proving Wales are worth it

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The Independent Online

What is it with the Welsh and their hair? Everywhere else in modern sport they are worrying about what is going on inside the player's head, but over in the Principality they seem more concerned about what is occurring on top of it. At this rate, Mike Ruddock may have to add a stylist to his ever-expanding list of lieutenants and rename the anthem "Land Of Our Lathers" if the shampoo set currently starring as his national team get their way.

There is Gavin Henson and his gel-inspired midfield-gap antennae, Shane Williams and the mullet from the land before time and Colin Charvis and the sort of do that would make Shaft reach for the clippers. And then there is Adam Jones.

It is difficult to describe the emotions that sidestep to the front of your mind as the 20-stone prop with a smile that could very well land him the lead role in a remake of The Shining approaches you. Fear is at the head of the queue, followed, inevitably, by self-preservation. But then, bizarrely, comes hilarity, not at anything the man-mountain from the foot of the Brecon Beacons says or does, but at the curly locks that sprout forth from every conceivable angle on his skull. "The Taffro", would be a good name for it, if Charvis had not been given it already.

"Don't tell me, you want to know about my hair?" he says as he sees your eyes creeping to the top of his gigantic 6ft frame and to the frizz that is more Tight Fit than tight-head. "Listen, I've never been to the hairdresser's in my life. It's self-done, or self-messed to be more accurate." Best not ask, then, whether he shaves his legs à la Henson. "I just rather it like this, that's all. My attitude is that I've got it now and grown it for too long to cut it off. Like Duncan says, I may as well keep it until I go bald and he should know, because he's going bald and he's just digging in for as long as he can."

Ah, Duncan, that other Jones of the front row who shares equal billing in Wales's Hair Bear Bunch. Only, he did share equal billing until a broken thumb ruled him out of the start of the Six Nations. Since then, Wales have beaten Italy and some team called England and fly out to France today with their confidence up alongside the clouds. Gethin Jenkins has performed with such distinction at loose-head that Ruddock could afford to allow someone of the undoubted stature of Duncan Jones to regain full-match fitness. Suddenly the Hair Bear Bunch has become the Hair Bear One and suddenly Adam is the one everyone recognises.

"It used to be the other way around, as Duncan's three years older than me," says the 23-year-old. "It's strange, though, because people used to mix us up, despite him having blond hair and me being dark." Probably because they were seemingly inseparable - for Neath-Swansea Ospreys, for Wales, for Vidal Sassoon. And very soon after they first appeared internationally, the pair became Wales's most famous double act since Barry and Gareth. Fans donned curly wigs in their thousands and the craze, just like their locks, took on a life of its own. Wales said "hello" with gusto, to the props with the mops.

"It was great because it got us noticed and if we shaved our heads, not as many people would have known us," he admits. "But sometimes it came over as this was the main reason why we were being picked - the two crazy, dopey-looking, curly guys in the pack. Not that we minded being known for our hair, but what we really wanted to be known for was our rugby."

Their wish is coming true; Duncan with a quite scintillating season for the Ospreys that has propelled him way up Sir Clive Woodward's Lions list and Adam as the beef in the Welsh front five that has so far acquitted itself well above expectation in this Six Nations, both in terms of possession won and, most crucially, in stamina. For Jones Jnr, the latter is the sweetest turnaround of all, having been told by Ruddock's predecessor, Steve Hansen, that he was not fit enough to last longer than 30 minutes.

"That was a disappointing time for me, gutting to be honest," he says. "The first time I was taken off after half an hour was against New Zealand in the World Cup and what annoyed me most was not being told it would happen. It then happened against England in the quarters, when I thought 'Oh shit, here we go again' when I saw the No 3 go up.

"The same thing carried on through to last year's Six Nations; I was sure I could last longer but the coach obviously wasn't. I injured my ankle then, between the Ireland and the French games, and I don't know if that was a bit of a blessing really, because it was so gutting always coming off and that."

So what's changed in a year then, so that now Jones appears to be the forward most full of energy in the increasingly familiar after-match celebrations?

"Er, just the coach I suppose," he says. "I'm no fitter and still do the same stats in training. It must just be down to a change of ideas. But we'll see how fit I am against France, against their scrum. They say 'scrum is king' and it'll be a big one alright. I thought we've done pretty well in that respect in the opening two games. The front five was supposed to be our weakness, but we've stopped the driving maul quite nicely so far. But now we've got the pinnacle front five to play against.

"I can see why people are concerned," he admits, "because if the front five gets stuffed then our backs won't get the ball and we'll be knackered. The French mentality is 'scrum, scrum, scrum', so it'll be tough for me, Gethin and Mefin [Davies, the hooker]. But we won't be intimidated, that's for sure. We'll just front up and give the ball to the backs and they can then score a few tries. Give it to Gav and he'll do the rest. Or Shane. Christ, I nearly forgot about Shane. 'Go ahead lads,' I'll tell 'em, 'you do the rest'.'' And Adam Jones can go back to doing his hair. Or perhaps not.