Alun Wyn Jones warns Wales to take Italy threat seriously in Rome
Captain not entertaining talk of a Grand Slam ahead of Azzurri clash
Wales’ lock Alun Wyn Jones in action against England’s Maro Itoje during the Six Nations match at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
Six Nations: Italy v Wales, Saturday, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, kick-off 3.15pm/2.15pm Irish time
Alun Wyn Jones says that Wales are concentrated on Italy rather than external expectation in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash in Rome.
Wales have won their last 15 games in all competitions against the Azzurri, and are strongly-backed to once again sweep them aside.
Victory would leave Wales one win away – they tackle France in Paris next week – from achieving a sixth Six Nations title and fifth Grand Slam.
But Wales captain Jones is looking no further ahead than what awaits his team at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico as they target a fourth success in this season’s competition following wins against Ireland, Scotland and England.
“I said in the interviews I did after the England game that historically Italy get better throughout the competition,” Jones said.
“We’ve seen how dangerous they can be in their nine-10 axis, their forwards have troubled some teams, and it is very easy to slip when potentially everyone outside is saying what you can and could do.
“So we have guarded upon that and are focusing on those things that are very clear and prominent in the improvements the Italian side have shown.
“We are well over 12 months into the tenure of the new [Wales coaching] regime.
“We’ve had a few calls that have gone our way, but we like to think it is from the pressure and opportunities that we are creating, and we will continue to do that.”
Although Wales won just three games last year under head coach Wayne Pivac, the emergence of exciting new international talent like Louis Rees-Zammit, Callum Sheedy, James Botham and Willis Halaholo has proved key to progression.
Jones added: “The mission statement from Wayne in the autumn was that people would get opportunities.
“You look at Callum Sheedy, James Botham, these guys who have had an opportunity and are fixtures in the squad.
“These guys come in wanting to prove a point, and when they do that it brings everyone along. Those new faces can do that, and we are fortunate they have.”
Pivac this week underlined Wales’ quest for a quality performance across 80 minutes as a key driver – and Jones agrees.
“Everybody is searching for perfection,” he said. “It’s not something you always find, but you want to add more minutes to those performances we’ve had.
“I have said before that it is like trying to keep the tide out – one thing will improve, and then you try and keep out the other.
“International rugby is minute by minute, and we need to get more of those minutes on our terms.”
Jones will make his 156th Test match appearance for Wales and the British and Irish Lions this weekend – an ongoing world record – while two more victories would see him stand alone as a four-time Grand Slam achiever in the Six Nations.
He has never been one for individual recognition, though, and always more about the bigger picture.
“I am looking at players that are younger than me coming [through], thinking that they are the guys we are going to be watching in the next 10 years or so,” Jones added.
“It’s a very special place to be, looking at 100-cappers who are now coaches and then guys who are on 10 caps and will probably reach that in the next number of years.
“When you are in the middle of that, it means a lot more and you cherish that a lot more, rather than what people think about you.”
ITALY: J Trulla (Calvisano); M Bellini (Zebre), J-I Brex (Benetton), C Canna (Zebre), M Ioane (Benetton); P Garbisi (Benetton), S Varney (Gloucester); D Fischetti (Zebre), L Bigi (Zebre, capt), G Zilocchi (Zebre); N Cannone (Benetton), D Sisi (Zebre); S Negri (Benetton), J Meyer (Zebre), M Lamaro (Benetton).
Replacements: O Fabiani (Zebre), A Lovotti (Zebre), M Riccioni (Benetton), M Lazzaroni (Benetton), M Mbanda (Zebre), M Violi (Zebre), F Mori (Calvisano), E Padovani (Benetton).
WALES: Liam Williams (Scarlets); L Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), G North (Ospreys), J Davies (Scarlets), J Adams (Cardiff Blues); D Biggar (Northampton), G Davies (Scarlets); W Jones (Scarlets), K Owens (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter); C Hill (Cardiff Blues), A W Jones (Ospreys, capt); J Navidi (Cardiff Blues), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Bath).
Replacements: E Dee (Dragons), R Carre (Cardiff Blues), L Brown (Dragons), J Ball (Scarlets), A Wainwright (Dragons), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), C Sheedy (Bristol), W Halaholo (Cardiff Blues).