Josh Adams has taken Test rugby by storm in the last 12 months – but he says there are “loads of places” for improvement.
The Cardiff Blues wing will be a key part of Wales’ bid for a 15th successive victory when they tackle World Cup warm-up opponents England at Twickenham on Sunday.
It is just 168 days since Adams scored a stunning match-clinching try that downed Eddie Jones’ team in Cardiff, soaring above England full-back Elliot Daly to catch Dan Biggar’s kick and swivelling in mid-air before touching down.
He followed it up by dazzling Scotland’s defence and claiming another memorable try a fortnight later as Wales marched towards a Six Nations title and Grand Slam glory.
Such has been 24-year-old Adams’ impact since making his international debut in February last year that he is now arguably among the first names on head coach Warren Gatland’s team sheet.
But he said: “I can’t say I am an established member of the Wales team yet.
Alun Wyn Jones will become his country's most capped rugby player of all time on Sunday when he leads the team against England at Twickenham 🏴 Gêm nodedig i'r capten wrth iddo arwain tîm profiadol yn erbyn Lloegr. #HWFN pic.twitter.com/wJJJsg015e— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) August 9, 2019
“I feel a lot more relaxed in the environment and I feel a lot more comfortable with the training. I am definitely up to speed with all of that.
“But the minute you think you are established and you put your feet under the table, that is the time you can fall off.
“Being relatively new to the squad, I know I’ve got to keep on improving and getting better. There are loads of places I can improve, and I am determined to be here for a while.
“Everyone in the (Wales squad) back three has trained exceptionally well.
“Leigh Halfpenny has come back to fitness and is an outstanding player with loads of experience. Then you’ve got Owen Lane, who has shown what he’s got to offer, Steff Evans as well. I could go on through all of them.
“We are pushing each other. It is friendly rivalry, and it is all about what is best for the team.”
Adams’ only previous Twickenham trip with Wales ended in a 12-6 defeat. It was his second international appearance, and this weekend he will oppose an England new kid on the block in the sizeable shape of Bath’s Joe Cokanasiga.
Even though the bigger picture is Wales’ World Cup campaign, which starts against Georgia on September 23, victory against England would be another notable stepping stone on route to Japan.
England, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and France are among those to have fallen during Wales’ long unbeaten sequence, and it is approaching 18 months since they lost a Test match.
“We don’t want to lose a 14-match winning streak,” Adams added.
“He (Gatland) could have made some changes and tried some different combinations, but he has shown faith in the Six Nations group and given us the chance to go out and make it 15.”
England’s World Cup build-up has taken a chaotic turn after it emerged that a fracas occurred between Ben Te’o and Mike Brown in Treviso, while preparations for Sunday’s Test against Wales have been disrupted by a trio of injury withdrawals.
PA understands there was an altercation during a social event at the squad’s heat and humidity training camp in north-east Italy last week.
As a result, Te’o and Brown were dropped from the squad for Sunday’s visit of Wales to Twickenham in a match staged 24 hours before Jones finalises his 31-man World Cup squad.
Jones, however, declined to comment on the incident: “No I’m not able to confirm that. I’m not able to confirm. I think I’ve answered the question.
“I do not have anything to say on it. I am really happy with the way the team is going, couldn’t be happier.”
Jones at least indicated that Te’o remains under consideration for the World Cup, while Brown is only expected to be involved in the event of injury.
#ENGvWAL | Eddie Jones forced into three changes for tomorrow's #QuilterInternationals opener against Wales 🌹— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 10, 2019
Here's the updated squad...
More here: https://t.co/sqVJuiPCQI#CarryThemHome pic.twitter.com/fp9FYJaTDp
Meanwhile, plans for the opening warm-up Test against Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions have been disturbed by injuries to centre Henry Slade, flanker Sam Underhill and wing Ruaridh McConnochie.
A day after naming the starting XV, Jones was forced into a significant reshuffle, including to the back row where the experiment of deploying opensides Underhill and Tom Curry in tandem will have to be delayed.
Slade (knee), Underhill (toe) and McConnochie (hip) have been ruled out, so Jonathan Joseph, Joe Cokanasiga and Lewis Ludlum have been propelled into the starting XV in their places.
Curry moves from six to openside while Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi are promoted to the bench.
Jones was initially reluctant to disclose the changes to his team, even when prompted by England’s press officer, telling him “err, yeah, no, what do you want me to do? So you want me to remember all these?”
Facing an experimental side picked by the 59-year-old head coach is Wales’ strongest available XV, including 13 starters from the Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March
If England do lose, Jones will be keeping perspective on the result.
“Momentum does not apply in the warm-ups. It is zero. It starts when you get to the World Cup,” Jones said.
“Imagine having momentum now. The World Cup is six or seven weeks away. No team in the world keeps momentum for that period of time. When do you want momentum? When you get to the World Cup.
“We are in a World Cup campaign so we want to be ready when we get on the plane by September 8.
“We are a proud team and want to win every game but the fact is that what people are going to remember this year is the World Cup.”
McConnochie was due to make his Test debut with the hope of impressing before the World Cup squad is named on Monday, but his prospects for Japan have now dimmed.
Willi Heinz will win his first cap, however, as Jones launches a late search for a deputy to Ben Youngs at scrum-half and the New Zealander who qualifies through his maternal grandmother has even been installed as vice-captain.
“Willi has been on a fascinating journey. He works hard at his craft and has a good head on him. He’s added to the team and deserves the opportunity,” Jones said.
“He’s made one hell of an impact since coming into the squad. We brought him in a couple of years ago to have a look at him.
“He went back to club rugby, improved his game immeasurably and now he is vice-captain for this game.”
England are unable to put a time frame on Jack Nowell‘s return to action as doubt persists over his availability for the World Cup.
Eddie Jones names his 31-man squad for Japan 2019 on Monday and, if fit, Nowell would be a certainty to travel as part of the five-strong back three contingent.
But the 26-year-old Exeter wing is still recovering from the ankle injury incurred during the Premiership final in early June.
Despite a routine surgical review completed last week, England are unable to set a date for his comeback.
“Jack is progressing. He went back to his club and we’re hoping he’ll be back and ready to be an option,” assistant coach Neal Hatley said.
“The review with him will be ongoing. He’s a good healer so we’ll see where we get to with him.”
Brad Shields is the most serious of England’s injured World Cup contenders due to a foot injury that will take another three to four weeks to heal, but Mako Vunipola is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a hamstring problem.
The schedule of four warm-up fixtures opens against Wales at Twickenham on Sunday and Hatley insists there will be no diffusing of the old rivalry despite the nature of the Test.
“No, absolutely not. No, never. It’s a Test match at Twickenham so the rivalry doesn’t take a back seat. It’s preparation and we want to see where we are, but it’s a Test match,” Hatley said.
“Wales are a good side, a really good side. This will be a good test of what we’ve been working on over the last six weeks.
“Physically and tactically we’ll find out where we are. We want to make sure that, in terms of preparation, we’re taking steps forward.”