Alun Wyn Jones called on his Welsh team to embrace the pressure of a backs-against-the-walls Test when they play New Zealand while shorn of top talent this Saturday.
Almost everything is against Wales in their opening autumn match; with at least 15 players injured and unavailable as the match is outside the international window, Covid taking out Uilisi Halaholo and the fact that the All Blacks have beaten them every time since 1953.
But captain Jones, approaching his 13th Welsh match against the three-time World champions, and a record 149th for his country, will make no excuses for his side.
Alun Wyn Jones called on his Welsh team to embrace the pressure of facing the All Blacks
‘The pressure is always on when you play for Wales because of the level of expectation that’s on us,’ he said.
‘That is always the same, particularly after the spell we have had over recent years. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for a lot of guys, and they know there are going to be more players coming into the squad, more key players back from injury in due course.
‘It’s an opportunity for a lot of people to put their hand up and there’s probably no bigger game to do it than the first one we have.
‘Being outside the window it’s probably frustrating we can’t have access to everybody but it is what it is.
Almost everything is against Wales; with at least 15 of Wayne Pivac’s (above) men unavailable
Coronavirus has also taken out Uilisi Halaholo (above) for their opening autumn match
‘I am aware of the stats and the records. It’s one of those things, a lot of guys probably haven’t played against New Zealand.
‘There are a lot of external things going on at the moment that are distractions from rugby, so it’s been nice to focus on rugby and you probably don’t get bogged down with those sorts of (records).
‘We are well aware of the history of the fixture, the succession of quality players they have always had. But yeah, our focus is on performance and building on the Six Nations and the opportunity the guys had in the summer. That needs to be our focus.
‘Obviously, the odds are stacked against us, I’ll leave those to the people who deal with the odds.’
Jones has refocused his gaze after the Lions tour, in which he injured his shoulder only to return two weeks later and play all three Tests in South Africa.
He had two full weeks of rest after it, ‘the first time I’ve had time off in a long time’, then trained for three-and-a-half at Ospreys, ending with two matches before returning to Welsh camp.
Wales have suffered defeats to the All Blacks every time they’ve played since 1953
Jones will make no excuses for his side as he prepares to win a record 149th international cap
The 36-year-old is onto his fifth World Cup cycle and has told his squad to narrow their eyes on the build-up to France in 2023.
‘It’s essentially, excluding this campaign, four campaigns then a World Cup,’ he explained.
‘Two Six Nations, a summer and an autumn, into a World Cup, so depending on your age an experience some will say ‘it’s miles away’. Not really. It’s not necessarily on the door-step but in sport time turns round really quickly, so you have to be aware it’s the start of the cycle.
‘I know that’s a contradiction in terms but you have to be aware as it’ll be here before we know it.’
That means honing a gameplan and ticking off results with time running out. Jones has been heartened by the progress made by coach Wayne Pivac, but knows Wales need to deliver more.
Jones has refocused his gaze after the Lions tour, in which he injured his shoulder (above)
He is onto his fifth World Cup cycle and has told his squad to focus on the build-up to France
‘Wales is always questioned about strength in depth and having players in certain positions,’ he said ahead of Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Australia.
‘I think Wayne has grabbed that bull by the horns. The fact he has capped so many players in autumns and summers in particular means he is setting his scene with player availability and the number at his disposal.
‘When change happens you don’t get the click of the fingers and it happens automatically. We are still aware of our last autumn which is hugely disappointing.
‘We won a Championship and missed out on a Grand Slam. In ways we have progressed there are still things we need to address as there always will be.
‘You don’t want to get too far ahead. Obviously we want to win.’