Jones backed to lead from front
New skipper backed ahead of visit to Rome
Last Updated: March 12, 2009 12:19pm
Jones: New skipper
Alun-Wyn Jones has received backing to do a "tremendous job" when he makes his debut as Wales captain in their Six Nations match against Italy in Rome on Saturday.
The Ospreys lock has been handed the captaincy by Warren Gatland, the head coach making no fewer than nine changes, along with one positional switch, following their defeat at the hands of France a fortnight ago.
Gatland's usual choice as skipper, Ryan Jones, drops to the replacement bench alongside stars such as Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Tom Shanklin for the trip to the Stadio Flaminio.
However, one of those seizing the opportunity of a promotion to the starting XV, Scarlets wing Mark Jones, reckons his namesake - the youngest forward to skipper Wales since 1934 - will lead from the front.
"He is an excellent player," said Jones, who has 44 caps to his name. "I've got huge respect for him. He always works hard and speaks very well, too.
"He will do a tremendous job, I am sure. He leads by his own performance, and that is about all you can ask."
Wales start as clear favourites at the weekend despite the changes - their opponents having lost all three Six Nations games this season, in the process conceding 100 points and 12 tries.
But Jones was a member of Welsh sides which lost in Rome in both 2003 and 2007 and is all too aware that the potential for a sting in the tail does exist.
"I am hoping it will be a case of third time lucky," he said. "I played there in 2003 when Steve Hansen was coach and we learnt a harsh lesson. We got what we deserved.
"Italy felt we were the team they could get after, but we've come a long way since then."
Gatland is not known as a man to tinker with a winning formula - not that he has had to, given that Wales' 21-16 loss to France was their first in the tournament since his appointment in late 2007.
But, according to Jones, the changes made are more a vote of confidence in the Welsh squad's strength in depth.
"We were obviously critical of the performance in France, but there has been no knee-jerk reaction," Jones said.
"Warren has been renowned for not making too many changes.
"People expected one or two, and I would like to think the ones he has made are because of the confidence he has in the squad and that he is looking to the World Cup in two years' time."
For Jones personally, the match represents another step on the road to recovery after his appendix operation earlier this year
He was a late replacement for the injured Shane Williams when Wales beat England last month but is still returning to full fitness after losing almost a stone in weight.
"I've noticed a considerable difference in the last 10 days in the gym, lifting 40 or 50 kilos more in squats," he added.
"You never turn an opportunity down, so I played a couple of weeks ago, but hopefully I will be a bit better prepared this time.
"The England game was difficult. In top sport, it's all about half a metre here and half a metre there, but those are the cards you are dealt.
"But the main thing is that I am back now and I am getting an opportunity."