SIX NATIONS: Wales ace Alun-Wyn Jones relishing another title tilt

Ireland's Jamie Heaslip is tackled by Wales' Alun Wyn Jones
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip is tackled by Wales' Alun Wyn Jones

Alun-Wyn Jones believes Wales are in “an exciting place” as they target a hat-trick of immediate post-World Cup Six Nations titles.

Second-row warrior Jones was a key player during last autumn’s World Cup campaign, when Wales fell one round short of emulating their 2011 semi-final achievement.

Wales were crowned Grand Slam champions of Europe immediately following the 2007 and 2011 World Cup tournaments, with many pundits feeling they are well placed for another major assault on Six Nations silverware.

And Jones, who will win his 95th cap in Sunday’s Aviva Stadium opener against Ireland, will once again be an integral part of head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.

Three of Wales’ remaining four Six Nations fixtures after this weekend are at home, suggesting they will occupy the box seat if victory can be achieved against an injury-hit Ireland team.

Jones is among 11 starting line-up survivors from the side beaten by World Cup quarter-final opponents South Africa last October, and he is relishing a Six Nations campaign that arguably sees Wales in better shape than any of their major rivals.

“We know where we fell short (in the World Cup),” Jones said.

“And I hope we can play a bit of positive rugby to put that right and score the tries that we essentially did not do enough.

“We spent a lot of time together not so long ago, and we have a lot of experience. I am a big believer that change is good, but sometimes you cannot forego what works.

“There is a bit of change in certain areas, and that might not be a bad thing. There have been changes in the squad, and we will see how that is used.

“It is an exciting place for Wales.

“The guys who came in during the World Cup took an opportunity and did well. The change was forced, and it is not normal to blood players during a World Cup. We now have greater strength in depth, and that can only be good.”

Wales return to Dublin this weekend for a first Six Nations visit since 2014, when Ireland’s pack delivered a rampant display and carved out imposing foundations that built an emphatic 26-3 victory.

That loss remains Wales’ heaviest Six Nations defeat for 10 years, but this time around they will tackle an Ireland team devoid of retired second-row talisman Paul O’Connell, plus injured stars like Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony.

“Ultimately, it is a difficult place to play, no matter who they have. We have experienced it a few times,” Jones added.

“I will probably miss him (O’Connell) on the park, but Devin Toner played alongside him for a long time and has been doing very well for Leinster.

“I will miss locking horns with Paul O’Connell and both of us trying to win. You cannot shy away from the effective guy he was in his position.”

For Jones, Sunday will be a case of once more testing himself to the mental and physical maximum as he edges closer to 100 Wales caps, which is a feat that has been achieved by just four other players - Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Gareth Thomas.

“Look at a number of guys in the northern hemisphere, particularly after a World Cup, and I find it hard (to believe) anyone could be playing regularly and saying they do not have a niggle,” Jones said.

“It is the nature of the beast. It is what you get when you play a lot of rugby, and hopefully you get another niggle to forget about the one you have already got.

“You do not have time in international rugby to stop and think ‘this is tough’.”