Wednesday 22 November 2017

Wales must cope being tagged as favourites against England, says Alun-Wyn Jones

LOCK Alun-Wyn Jones believes Wales must take the tag of favourites in their stride when they tackle RBS 6 Nations title rivals England at Twickenham on Saturday.

A win for Wales over England would secure their 20th championship Triple Crown and leave them needing victory in two home games next month - against Italy and France - to land a second Six Nations crown and Grand Slam of coach Warren Gatland's four-year reign.

Despite Wales' poor record at Twickenham - one success since 1988 - their achievement in reaching last year's World Cup semi-finals and form during the current Six Nations tournament, scoring 50 points and six tries in two games, has seen the bookmakers install them as firm favourites this weekend.

"There will be a lot of hype in the build-up, but you have to take each game as it comes," Wales lock Jones said.

"People are saying we are the favourites, and we need to be comfortable with that because it is what happens when your performances and confidence grow.

"These are quite exciting times, and being favourites should not have an effect. We have to cope with it and keep going."

British and Irish Lions forward Jones has made just one post-World Cup start for the Ospreys - against Italian side Aironi last Friday night - because of a toe injury suffered during training in November, and subsequent surgery.

But Gatland has no issues with handing the 26-year-old his 60th cap.

"I am delighted to start," Jones added. "It will be a step up from regional rugby to international rugby fitness-wise, but I am happy.

"I will probably be blowing a bit, but you always are in a Test match.

"It has been frustrating watching from the sidelines - I am the most impatient patient you will get. I just wanted to get fit as quickly as possible, and I am lucky enough to be back in the frame with Wales.

"My job is to emulate what the boys have done in the Six Nations so far, and to add something."

Jones replaces his Ospreys colleague Ryan Jones, who drops to the bench, as one of three changes following a 27-13 home victory over Scotland 10 days ago.

Flanker Sam Warburton has recovered from injury and will captain Wales, having missed the Scotland win due to a thigh problem that forced him off at half-time against Ireland in Dublin a week earlier.

Wales' World Cup skipper replaces Aaron Shingler in the back row, while Scarlets hooker Ken Owens gains a first Wales start.

Owens, who made his Test debut during last autumn's World Cup campaign, is promoted off the bench as calf strains sideline Huw Bennett and Matthew Rees.

But the Wales back division is unchanged for the third successive Six Nations game, with wing George North having shrugged off an ankle injury that meant he made an early exit against Scotland.

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