Ospreys identify the ingredient that sets Alun Wyn Jones apart
ALUN Wyn Jones will return to the Ospreys' selection mix this weekend with his region pinpointing the ingredient that sets him apart as a player.
The second row will celebrate his 28th birthday on Thursday at the peak of his powers, acknowledged throughout the game as one of the pre-eminent locks in the world after his displays for the Lions in Australia this summer.
He has achieved that status thanks to a range of qualities, but, according to Ospreys' assistant coach Gruff Rees, there is one that is more important than all the others.
"What has marked Alun Wyn out since he started in Test rugby is his consistency, both in the regional game and at international level," said Rees.
"His game rarely wavers and he has been like that for a long time.
"You see a lot of players come in who may have a year or even two years of world-class excellence, but they do have dips.
"I have never seen that from Alun Wyn, playing for the Ospreys, Wales or the Lions.
"His consistency says a lot for his character and how relentless he is as a person." It is some compliment, for as a famous American grid-iron coach once observed: "The hallmark of excellence, the test of greatness, is consistency."
Almost everyone who earns a living from sport can summon a good performance once in a while.
But the special few keep producing, not letting standards drop and somehow managing to stay motivated whatever the fixture and whatever the venue.
It helps to have the right state of mind.
Jones, for instance, could be forgiven for easing his way slowly back into Ospreys life after the heights he scaled as Test captain with the Lions in Australia, but his enthusiasm has been to the fore in recent weeks, firing up others.
"He's great around the environment, he's inspirational in terms of what he does week-in, week-out and, to be fair to the guy, he's been really good over the past two weeks, running opposition plays, galvanising the non-starting group and keeping boys on the edge," said Rees.
"We've seen good internal competition in training sessions and some really tough hit-outs, which have helped put us in a good position to gain points from the first two games.
"Alun Wyn will come into the selection mix this week and his quality as a player is there for everyone to see — I don't have to back up what he does as a player.
"He'll be desperate to start."
The Ospreys will make a decision on whether to include Jones in their run-on side later in the week, conscious that the usual routine is to welcome forwards back with 20 minutes or so after extended absences.
The challenge for the former Pro12 champions is to build on the foundations they have set in place by avoiding defeat in their first two games.
Despite the fine draw in Dublin, they feel they still have scope to improve after Leinster were allowed to boss territory in the first half, score two counter-attacking tries and claw their way back into the game with 14 men late on.
But a share of the spoils at the RDS is not to be sniffed at, and after the horrors of last September, when three defeats haunted the Ospreys throughout the campaign, Steve Tandy's side have started well.
They also had a new signing to speak about yesterday, Canadian international scrum-half Phil Mack, who has been brought in on a short-term deal to back up Tito Tebaldi.
"We've been monitoring a few Canadian players and in all the footage we watched, in fifteens and sevens, this diminutive scrum-half, a real livewire, kept coming out at us," said Rees.
"He was someone we put in our back pocket, really, to monitor if and when an emergency arose.
"That has now happened because of injuries.
"Phil will be with us for three months. We should then be back to a comfortable position where we have two young gifted nines, Rhys Webb and Tom Habberfield, pushing each other and Tito Tebaldi giving us something different.
"Hopefully, Phil will do himself justice over the three months."