Jones not taking Ireland lightly despite injury problems
Lions quartet out for Ireland but Wales forward expects tough Test.
Alun Wyn Jones says Wales will take little notice of Irish absentees in Saturday’s NatWest 6 Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium.
While Wales can claim more than their fair share of injuries – British and Irish Lions trio Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies and Rhys Webb are among those missing this weekend – Ireland have also been hit hard.
They will be without a quartet of 2017 Lions in centre Robbie Henshaw, prop Tadhg Furlong, lock Iain Henderson and flanker Sean O’Brien, with head coach Joe Schmidt handing starts to Test rookies like Chris Farrell and Andrew Porter this weekend.
Ireland have not lost in Dublin since world champions New Zealand beat them 15 months ago, but that impressive record could come under serious threat when Wales look to mark head coach Warren Gatland’s 100th Test at the helm in style.
“There are obviously a few forced changes, but they are at home so it’s going to be a tough test whatever Irish side we face,” Wales captain Jones said.
“They are quality players with British and Irish Lions experience, and players of that experience are a loss.
“Whoever fills the void has a point to prove after missing out initially, and they will want to take their opportunity. I said before the Scotland game (three weeks ago) that we can’t focus on the people who aren’t there, we need to focus on the ones who are.”
One Irish player who remains a constant thorn in the side of any opposition team is fly-half Johnny Sexton, and Jones knows from Lions experience on the last two tours how valuable a player he is.
“He has elements of your typical 10,” Jones added. “He is very demanding, knows what he wants and is fiercely competitive. That is a quality of all 10s.
“The difference he has is that he has done it at the highest level and can repeat that. I can’t laud him any more for what he has (achieved) and can achieve.
“They (Sexton and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar) are two similar players – both aggressive in the right ways. They are both in that fulcrum position in the team and are going to have an interesting battle to watch.”
Ireland are unbeaten at home in the Six Nations since 2013 yet Wales’ record on Irish soil during Gatland’s 10-year reign is a solid one, with just two defeats from six visits on the Six Nations and World Cup warm-up stages.
And while Wales need a win to keep themselves in the Six Nations title mix, they go into battle as marginal outsiders.
“You know pre-game if guys go into town today they are going to know where they are and what they are here to face,” Jones said.
“They always arrive for the occasion, whether it’s the team or supporters, so it’s a great occasion and it’s up to us to make sure we arrive for it as well.”
Gatland, meanwhile, said about his century of games as Wales boss: “It’s a nice milestone. It’s a nice honour, but it’s just something to reflect back on.
“This weekend is about the game, it’s about the players, it’s about the performance and the result. That is more important than me reaching 100 games.”