Saturday 20 January 2018

Gatland happy to risk fit-again Jones

Alun-Wyn Jones
Alun-Wyn Jones

Mick Cleary

Warren Gatland acknowledged yesterday that there was risk involved in pitching Alun-Wyn Jones straight back into the Wales team to face England at Twickenham on Saturday, one of three changes to his side.

The Ospreys second-row has played just one and a half games following three months on the sidelines with a toe injury.

"He's going to struggle a bit but I don't have any concerns over his experience or ability, and that's why we're throwing him in there," said Gatland, buoyed also by the return of flanker Sam Warburton, and powerful wing George North shaking off an ankle injury.

"Anyone who knows Alun-Wyn knows that he's diligent on and off the field, and wouldn't have turned up out of shape. He works harder than most players. Even though he lacks game time, we know he's in good shape physically and mentally. He gives us size and he gives us physicality."

Gatland has been forced to turn to third-choice hooker Ken Owens after injury ruled out Matthew Rees and Huw Bennett. Owens, back-up to Rees at Scarlets, will be making his first start after two caps as a replacement.

Even so, it is clear from the selection of Jones that Gatland wants to ensure his pack will deliver the sort of ball that can be exploited by the hulking, turbo-charged Wales back line.

Wales have won only once at Twickenham in 24 years and that was in 2008, Gatland's first game in charge. The head coach is firm in his belief that the days of Wales' players viewing a trip to Twickenham as a daunting experience are long gone.

"There is definitely not that fear factor there now," Gatland said.

Ryan Jones is the unfortunate casualty of Alun-Wyn Jones' return, moving down to the bench despite impressive performances against Ireland and Scotland. Gatland does not expect there to be any murmurings.

"I expect players to be disappointed but if they act like a bit of a d***, they're not going to be around too long," said Gatland, who also expressed concerns about being able to keep players in Wales after prop Gethin Jenkins confirmed his move to Toulon, the sixth leading player to leave for richer returns in France.

"Ideally, we'd love them to stay here," he said. "I don't know what the answer is." The conundrum of trying to beat England might be easier to solve. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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