Jones still striving
Veteran fly-half says he is enjoying his rugby as much as ever
Last Updated: 23/02/11 4:33pm
Jones: nearing milestone
Wales fly-half Stephen Jones, who stands just three caps short of a century, says he has no intention of bringing down the curtain on his international career just yet.
The Scarlets number 10 will edge closer to the magic figure against Italy on Saturday having made his international debut against South Africa back in 1998.
"There is plenty to drive me on," said Jones, who starts at fly-half after James Hook was switched into midfield to replace the injured Jonathan Davies.
"I enjoy things as much as ever, and I still have goals in my head and what I want to achieve.
"I am fortunate that I come in and work in an environment that I love, which is as good as it gets."
Jones' first appearance for his country ended in humiliation after they went down 96-13 to the Springboks but he has gone on to be a key part of two Six Nations title and Grand Slam-winning campaigns.
The 33-year-old has also made six Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions.
When he runs out in Rome this weekend, moving level with flanker Martyn Williams' 98 caps, only Gareth Thomas - the solitary Wales player to clock up 100 Tests - will be above him.
Thomas' record is likely to be broken later this year because Wales have three World Cup warm-up fixtures in August before heading to New Zealand, where they will play a minimum of four matches.
Jones said: "I am conscious of the record because people keep reminding me.
"But you have to keep focused on each game because I know if I don't perform this could be my 98th cap, but also my last.
"So I don't try to look too far ahead. The physicality of the international game is tougher than it has ever been, which means you take nothing for granted.
"But I have been very fortunate with my career. I have enjoyed things and worked with some great people."
Jones was dropped in favour of Hook following Wales' loss to England in their Six Nations opener three weeks ago, but they will stay in the title hunt if they beat Italy this weekend.
He remains under a degree of pressure at Stadio Flaminio after Hook guided Wales to victory against Scotland 11 days ago, but Jones says he is relishing his recall.
"When selection does not go your way, when you are given an opportunity the next time you have to take it," he said.
"That has never changed, whether you are playing for your region or your country.
"You have to try to improve yourself, and competition is a healthy thing. I have got certain aspects of my game I want to improve on - that is a constant challenge for me.
"It is a different midfield this weekend, but as a unit we are used to playing together.
"James and Jamie (Roberts) are two quality players, and it is about trying to get the balance right with attack and using the players to their strengths."
Hook, meanwhile, will reach 50 caps in Rome with Jones saying of the 25-year-old's achievement: "It is an impressive milestone.
"We all know what a wonderful player and a talent James is, and he is also a great professional. He deserves this accolade."
Wales have lost twice in Rome in 2003 and 2007 - Jones the captain on the second occasion - but the Azzurri come into the match having lost 59-13 to England last time out.
"I would like to think we were still in the Six Nations equation," Jones added.
"But we are conscious Rome is a big challenge - as we have found out in the past - and if we get into an arm-wrestle, we will struggle.
"We must play our style of game and enforce ourselves on Italy. If we can do that, then I cannot see why we can't be successful.
"We can learn from England, who were smart in the way they played against Italy. They attacked them in good areas and had a lot of tempo and continuity in their game.
"That suited the England team, and it should suit us as well.
"We have to look at the personnel in our team and decide what we are good at, which is 15-man rugby. That is the game we want to play, which tends to be high risk and high reward."