RWC 2019: Warren Gatland praises Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones as he prepares to equal cap record

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Wales boss Warren Gatland says skipper Alun Wyn Jones is a player that “deserves all the accolades” as he prepares to equal his country’s cap record.

Jones will make a 129th Wales appearance in Monday’s Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia, matching prop Gethin Jenkins’ achievement.

“He has been absolutely outstanding,” Gatland said of the 34-year-old. “He has got better with age.

“He deserves all the accolades. He has been a great servant to Welsh rugby. The pleasing thing for me is that recognition hasn’t just been in Wales. It has been worldwide.

“People realise just what a contribution he has made to world rugby, both in his performances and leadership. It’s pleasing to see someone from Wales recognised as one of the best players in his position.”

Flanker Aaron Wainwright will make his World Cup debut against Georgia, lining up in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, with Ross Moriarty among the replacements.

Gatland has chosen a starting line-up packed with star names as the Six Nations champions target a flying start.

Jones is joined by fellow British & Irish Lions Test players in Tipuric, full-back Liam Williams, wing George North, centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens.

Elsewhere, there is a start for Scarlets prop Wyn Jones, and Jake Ball is Alun Wyn Jones’ second-row partner with Aaron Shingler providing lock cover among the replacements.

On 21-year-old Wainwright’s selection, Gatland added: “He’s incredibly athletic and an intelligent rugby player. He’s very inexperienced still, but I think there is only an upward curve for him as a player.

“I don’t think people realise how quick he is and how explosive he is. Since his first cap 12 months or so ago, he has just gone from strength to strength.

“There’s some real competition in the back-row, and that’s the way we want it. We feel there’s a nice balance.”

Lock Adam Beard, meanwhile, has joined the Wales squad in Japan after remaining at home last week to have his appendix removed.

Beard’s fellow second-row forward Cory Hill, who has been sidelined due to a stress fracture in his leg, remains on course for the Australia match.

“He (Beard) is going to do some light stuff over the next few days,” Gatland said. “I don’t think he’s going to be in contention for selection next week.

“The plan is to get him up and running as quickly as we possibly can. He’s lost a bit of weight, so we need to get some weight back on him, get him eating properly again.

“He’s done a lot of training and conditioning over the last three months, so it will probably take a week to get him up to speed again.

“Cory Hill did some scrums today and some running. The plan is to have him available for selection for next week. He’s making a lot of progress.”

Wales go into the Georgia game after assistant coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan earlier this week for an alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations.

Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones has replaced Howley and was involved in his first training session on Saturday.

“Yesterday, we had a day off, and he (Jones) spent all day in the team room looking at game footage, going through training and the calls and everything,” Gatland added.

“He has fitted in well, and it has been easy because he has been in this environment as a player. He knows so many of the players as well.”

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RWC 19: Controversy erupts after Australia's Reece Hodge escapes red card against Fiji

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Australia's Reece Hodge (r) in action against Fiji.

World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles has ignited controversy just two games into the World Cup after Australia wing Reece Hodge escaped a red card against Fiji.

Hodge prevented Peceli Yato from scoring a certain try in the 26th minute of the Wallabies’ 39-21 victory by halting the openside with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu revealed after the Pool D showdown at the Sapporo Dome that, having requested referee Ben O’Keeffe to refer the incident to English TMO Rowan Kitt, the tackle was deemed legitimate.

Adding to the Islanders’ sense of grievance is that Yato, who scored the opening try and was superb until his departure, then failed a head injury assessment after being hurt in a tackle that could also have been punished by a penalty try.

Only on Monday, World Cup referees chief Alain Rolland warned the competing nations that officials would punish high tackles with greater severity, even if that means games were being blighted by red cards.

It comes amid World Rugby’s drive to reduce instances of concussion by clamping down on dangerous hits.

Fiji head coach John McKee adopted a stoical view on an incident that is sure to result in a citing for Hodge.

“I haven’t seen footage of the incident yet, but maybe some people will look at it. We haven’t spoken to the TMO yet,” McKee said.

“The referee has a tough job out there. There’s a lot going on. We maybe didn’t get the rub of the green, but we have no complaints about the referee.

“We take a lot out of that game and we are still in this tournament. We will be watching how Wales and Australia go. We’re still in this tournament.”

Waqaniburotu revealed that the tackle was missed by New Zealand referee O’Keeffe.

“He said he didn’t see anything so it will be referred to the TMO. We will just have to see what happens,” Waqaniburotu said.

Australia head coach Michael Cheika also said he did not see the tackle, but noted that “the collision was a massive one and a try-saver”.

Cheika added: “Fiji came out with a lot of aggression and they caught us on the hop early on. But we got out of it with a bonus-point win, so it’s a good start for us.”

Cheika also questioned why the officials were having an ongoing discussion during the match about his blindside flanker David Pocock.

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RWC 19: Peter O'Mahony backs Ireland's playmakers to look after themselves in Scotland clash

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Ireland playmakers Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.

Ireland back-rower Peter O’Mahony has backed playmakers Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to “look after themselves” whatever strong-arm tactics Scotland might attempt in Sunday’s World Cup opener.

Scrum-half Murray hit out at Glasgow’s “very dangerous” attempts to take out his standing leg when kicking back in a European clash in January 2017.

Scotland have continually tried to unsettle Ireland’s stellar British and Irish Lions playmaking duo, and Murray’s Munster team-mate O’Mahony fully expects more of the same in Yokohama this weekend.

“Look, it hasn’t come into our thinking. It’s a Test game, half-backs are always targeted,” O’Mahony said.

“Jacob’s already spoken about Finn Russell. If you can get to the other team’s playmakers it gives you advantage and that isn’t something that’s new in Test Rugby.

“And it isn’t going to be any different tomorrow. So front-foot ball, solid set-piece, having the ability to get ourselves into the game and starting well is paramount for us.

“So Johnny and the boys are well able to look after themselves.”

The 59-cap flanker O’Mahony said Ireland had been waiting for this World Cup to kick-off for so long their eagerness for a strong start had hit fever pitch.

Ireland suffered a record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham just last month, but rebounded with back-to-back victories over Wales.

Joe Schmidt’s side enter this tournament as the world’s number-one ranked team. But while New Zealand remain the bookmakers’ favourites for a third World Cup triumph in succession, Ireland are itching to make good on their vows to hit their peak at exactly the right time.

Asked if Ireland, and especially the forwards, were ready to hit new heights in Japan, O’Mahony said: “I think you have to think you’re ready, you’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

“It’s the game everyone’s been waiting for. And 18 months ago we spoke about it briefly, but when you’re playing big tournaments it kind of catches up with you. All of a sudden you’re into the World Cup pre-season.

“But now it’s here, and it’s the one where everyone wants to start well and perform well.

“We’ve had a great pre-season and you have to think and believe we’re ready to go.”

O’Mahony said Ireland had been “taken aback” by the depth of the welcome from the Japanese public.

The 30-year-old said Ireland would now aim to take that feel-good factor into their World Cup bid.

“We’re a very proud nation, a proud squad; to be from Ireland and to get an opportunity to play for Ireland is something that no one takes lightly,” said O’Mahony.

“Whether you’re in the 31, 23, or starting fifteen, it’s a huge honour to be here playing in a World Cup in Japan.

“That’s the overwhelming thing, with regard to the team, we’ve had a fabulous welcome from the Japanese people and we’re certainly very grateful for that.

“I was lucky enough to be here 10 years ago and experience a lot of the cultures here.

“But the welcome this time has been absolutely incredible, and a lot of the guys have been taken aback by that.

“We’d consider Ireland a very welcoming country, but Japan take that to a different level.”

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