Jones determined to lead from the front
IF there are people out there in any doubt about what Alun Wyn Jones brings to the Ospreys, they could do worse then watch a recording of the game with Treviso at the Liberty last Friday.
Focus on the last quarter.
The Italians have fought their way back into contention, closing a 20-point gap with two converted tries. Dan Biggar lands a penalty to put the Ospreys 26-17 in front, but with 15 minutes left they have only two touchdowns and a bonus point looks far from certain.
Then the skipper takes a hand, inspiring his side with two line-out takes and a remarkable four ball carries in one minute and 12 seconds, pounding the Treviso defence and then getting up and doing the same thing all over again.
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It was akin to someone rapidly shovelling coal onto the fire of a steam engine, to quicken the locomotive's speed. Jones is clearly drained by the physical exertion but he keeps rising and powering forward, keeps gaining territory for his side.
When they talk about leading by example, this is what they mean.
Jones had seen the Ospreys needed lifting, and he pointed the way forward, others rapidly joining in until, after two more charges from the captain, the exhausted Italians finally dropped their guard, Kahn Fotuali'i hoisting a deft kick over the top for Hanno Dirksen to gather and cross.
The Ospreys went on to secure their bonus point through an Ashley Beck try — reward for a big forward effort in which the likes of Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Richard Hibbard and Ryan Bevington were outstanding.
Jones's personal performance was startling, involving 18 ball carries, six line-out takes, nine tackles, four passes and three offloads. For good measure there was also a box kick. No doubt later in the evening he went on to complete a shift at the Daily Planet.
Some players find leading a team burdensome.
Their own form can suffer and they can become tetchy in defeat.
But Jones seems to thrive on the extra responsibility, raising his own game and galvanising those around him.
Wales announce their squad for the autumn series next week and if there has been a better captain at the regions this term we really should be told about him.
That said, Jones reckons leadership isn't about one man.
At the Ospreys he has a number of able lieutenants, among them Duncan Jones, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric and Jonathan Thomas, all of whom have captaincy experience.
"The captaincy is a lot easier when you are winning," said Alun Wyn.
"And it helps when you have a lot of senior boys around you, like Dunc and Ryan, especially in the pack.
"We have a team of leaders, so it's pretty good."
The Ospreys will need all their experience up front for the visit to Leicester in the Heineken Cup on Sunday.
The Tigers may have lost to Toulouse last weekend and may have come unstuck at home against Harlequins recently, but they remain shot through with stubborness and are always tough opponents.
If the Ospreys are to beat them, they will need their senior players to report for duty. They will need individuals who understand how to come through one of the sternest mental and physical challenges European rugby can offer. They will need forwards who stand toe to toe with their opponents, unprepared to concede an inch.
After all, it was a Leicester old boy, Martin Johnson, who once said: "The whole game is about confrontation. If you don't like it you don't have to be there."
Opposition weakness are attacked by Leicester, signs of vulnerability ruthlessly exploited.
Fortunately for the Ospreys, their pack is belching steam again. Key players are stepping forward with big performances, fuelling the side.
"Our forwards have been nothing short of outstanding," said Dan Biggar this week.
"They're up there with the best in Europe at the minute.
"We are aware how good Leicester are and how strong they are at home with their pack, but if we can get parity in the scrums and line-outs and perform strongly up front in other areas, it gives us a chance to pick up points."
Told the Ospreys fly-half had been singing his forwards' praises, Jones laughed: "It's nice to hear Dan talking like that, because he'll let us know if we are not playing well.
"But that's what you want.
"It goes back to simplifying things. If we are going forward, it gives the backs a sniff, and if the likes of Ashley Beck and Eli Walker are making breaks, and Hanno Dirksen is running strongly, we have a dangerous backline, irrelevant of age."
Jones is doing his media interview outside the press room at the region's base in Llandarcy. Wearing a sweat top with hood pulled up, he is not unlike a boxer — appropriate, really, for the Ospreys are in a pool that includes genuine heavyweights in Toulouse, Leicester and themselves, plus Treviso, who have scored the odd knock-out in the past, particularly when opponents have made the mistake of dropping their guard.
The Heineken Cup is unforgiving and nowhere more so than in Pool 2.
"Before the Treviso game last week I tried to get across to the players that we're going from our bread and butter, the Rabo, to the Heineken Cup, and there's a difference," said Jones.
"Whether or not you've played 80 Tests or you have just come from playing for Swansea in the Premiership it is a step up and probably as close to international level as you'll get if you haven't played for your country.
"But, in fairness, over the past fortnight our training sessions have been exemplary, not just with the boys who feature in the matchday 23 but the squad as a whole."
That jump up will see the Ospreys bid to storm Leicester's citadel this weekend.
It is a big ask, but the region have big-game players, none more so than their captain.