Second place is our aim, insists Wales ace Jones
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones could not resist chiding Eddie Jones for branding Wales "a little s**t place" ahead of his side's clash with France this evening.
Jones, the totemic second-rower, was targeted by the England coach before last month's cross-border skirmish at Twickenham, with the Australian saying he would complain to World Rugby about the Wales captain intimidating referees. He shrugged off his namesake's criticisms, jokingly referring to him as "Uncle Eddie" and after going through the final preparations at the Principality Stadium yesterday, he employed the moniker again.
But this time his mood was not at all jocular after being asked about the video footage of Jones describing the Irish as "scummy" and his foul-mouthed dismissal of Wales. "Eddie talks a lot," Jones said. "Whatever he said about Wales, it's my country, so if he thinks that, then I will stand by my country. I am not here to say whether what somebody says is good or bad. It's probably a poor choice of words on his part."
The possibility of finishing second in the Six Nations has been occupying Welsh thoughts in the build-up to this evening's game. Wales would dearly love to finish above England for the first time in five years, not because of any petty nationalistic differences, but simply because they believe runners-up would represent progress for a young squad which began the campaign crippled by absent Lions.
exceptional By the 5pm kick-off, Wales will know exactly what it will take to better England, although unless there are exceptional circumstances in south-west London, a win even without a bonus will be enough.
"If we win we'll get second and that's the aim," Jones said. "It's the focus for us. Yeah, we're disappointed not to be vying for the championship in the last game, but there have been pleasing points.
"A lot of players have had opportunities, and hopefully the strength in depth is there."
Certainly Wales is the place he wants to be moving forward. The Welsh Union announced yesterday that the 32-year-old has extended his national dual contract at the Ospreys and this means he is all but certain to finish his career in his homeland.
France have not won in Cardiff since 2010 and have lost four of their last five visits to the capital. Last year in Paris, the teams contested that famous 100-minute Test, a defeat which still rankles in the red-shirted ranks. Warren Gatland's men understand that this could be the best Gallic outfit they have faced in some time and anticipate Jacques Brunel's side arriving full of confidence after last week's victory over England.
Indeed, but for Johnny Sexton's last-second drop-goal in the opener, France would be playing for the Championship themselves. As it is, second would still represent Les Bleus' best finish in seven years.
Hooker Guilhem Guirado is out injured so 20st centre Mathieu Bastareaud will captain France in his absence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Wales - L Halfpenny; G North, S Williams, H Parkes, L Williams; D Biggar, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis, C Hill, A W Jones (capt), J Tipuric, J Navidi, T Faletau. Reps: E Dee, N Smith, S Lee, B Davies, A Shingler, A Davies, G Anscombe, S Evans.
France - B Fall; G Fickou, M Bastareaud (capt), G Doumayrou, R Grosso; F Trinh-Duc, M Machenaud; J Poirot, A Pelissie, C Gomes Sa, S Vahaamahina, P Gabrillagues, Y Camara, W Lauret, M Tauleigne. Reps: C Chat, D Priso, R Slimani, B Le Roux, M Babillot, B Couilloud, L Beauxis, G Palis.
Ref - B O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
- Wales v France, live, 3e/TV3 (first half/second half) & BBC 1, 5.0