Alun Wyn Jones: Wales captain reflects on 'frustrating' Autumn Nations Cup

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales
Alun Wyn Jones will play his 152nd international match against Italy
Alun Wyn Jones will play his 152nd international match against Italy
Autumn Nations Cup: Fifth-place play-off - Wales v Italy
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Date: Saturday, 5 December Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru; watch on S4C and follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

If anybody is qualified to speak about the feast and famine nature of Welsh rugby, it is Alun Wyn Jones.

There is little the Wales captain has not seen since his international debut in 2006.

The highs of Grand Slams, Six Nations titles and World Cup semi-finals have been punctuated by the lows of losing streaks.

In a year where he has become the most-capped player in world rugby history, he has also seen Wales suffer seven defeats in nine games under head coach Wayne Pivac.

As he prepares for Wales' final game of the year against Italy - with his side having slumped to ninth in the world - Jones admits 2020 has been challenging.

"From a rugby standpoint, it's been bitty," said Jones.

"One of the comments we've had in the past is Wales are slow starters in the autumn.

"It is a fact and I won't hide behind it as an excuse, but it has been accentuated more than ever.

"It is frustrating from a professional and personal level, but I've had the fortune, or misfortune, of being through this sort of thing before and I'm aware you can and will get out of it."

Dealing with defeat

Jones feels he has adapted to lean times during his career, but perhaps his family could offer an idea of how he copes with defeat.

"I think my wife would probably give you the best answer," said Jones.

"The kids are a good tonic. I didn't have them in my younger days but they help you forget pretty quickly.

Stephen Jones says Wales understand fans' frustrations with the team's style of rugby

"Don't get me wrong, I have pangs [when I ask myself]: 'What's going on?'

"From a personal point of view, sometimes it is hard to go through the mire, as with any walk of life, any job.

"Ultimately the people around me, going back to my core values and skills, is what gets me through. It's work ethic.

"I have been in similar positions before. You do come out of it.

"I'm comfortable with the fact that if my performances aren't up to scratch, they'll be as scrutinised as anybody else's. I take comfort from that."

Jones says he has modified how he helps the squad cope in his captaincy capacity.

"In my younger days I would probably try to deal with all situations in a similar way," he admitted.

"But having been involved for a while now, [I realise] certain people need a poke and certain people need an arm around them.

"That's not just players, that could be anyone involved in the environment, I'm aware of that.

"There is time for a rocket but also time for a level head. You can be reactive in times like these, which can be dangerous.

"Having someone at the head of the ship, who's continuing with a theme and backing what they say, I'm comfortable to follow suit and support that.

"I don't see that pressure as a chore. From an experience point of view, when I was coming through, I remember the guys I looked up to, how they interacted and helped me. Likewise the coaches at the time.

"It's that supporting, professional role. If I can do that for others, I feel I'm doing my job. It's a privilege to have that sort of influence rather than a responsibility.

"I'm still as accountable and enjoy the scrutiny of the environment we have at the minute. If I didn't have that, it would probably be more unnerving."

Building for 2023

Pivac has come under a lot of pressure after succeeding Warren Gatland but has always insisted he is building towards the 2023 World Cup.

Wales need to ‘nail opportunities’ - Pivac

There have been a lot of personnel changes this autumn, with 30 alterations in team selections in the last three games and eight new caps awarded and 11 debuts in total in 2020.

"You have to give credit to Wayne," said Jones.

"I know I'm inside the tent so will add that element of bias, but when you strip it back and look at management decisions, he's stuck to his guns and continued to give people opportunities.

"In a few of the games we've had, he could have gone safe and reverted to type by selecting people who have played before.

"He has stuck to his mantra and has done what he said he'd do at the outset of this campaign.

"Eight new caps - previously you would not see that in two years.

"You can say it is a risk and devalues caps, I've heard it all before, but it could be a watershed moment in the way the new regime kicks on.

"It is good when you see young guys coming in and asking the right questions. They have not been found wanting.

"From a spectator and an outsider's point of view, you only see the 80 minutes. I am fortunate to see how they operate and their application.

"We will put it together with potentially a more settled selection come the Six Nations."

One more World Cup?

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said this week he could play on until the next World Cup in 2023.

Jones will be the same age at the tournament in France but neatly sidestepped the question on whether he has similar ambitions and preferred to focus on his current conditioning.

"I had a few niggles coming out of the World Cup," said Jones.

"I was disappointed not to feature more for the Ospreys. I had a bit of a groin and an Achilles flare-up after coming back [from the 2019 World Cup]. I am chomping at the bit to get back for the Ospreys, irrelevant of 2020 and what's happened.

"Physically I am feeling good and was decent coming into this campaign after the way we started with the Ospreys.

"I want to get back into the swing of things with the Ospreys and go from there. I feel physically in a good place, probably better than I have for a while."

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