Ryan Jones: Let's get at them from the start
RYAN Jones celebrated his return as Wales captain by challenging his team-mates to be bold and confound expectations in the Six Nations encounter against France in Paris tomorrow (5 GMT).
The 31-year-old is one of three Ospreys drafted in by Rob Howley as Wales attempt to stave off a ninth consecutive defeat.
Jones, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric are all given starts in a Welsh pack in dire need of some heart after the feeble first-half show against Ireland.
Sam Warburton was ruled out by injury, while Aaron Shingler is relegated to the bench and Matthew Rees is left out completely.
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For Jones, who becomes the first man to skipper the national team 30 times, there is no point playing conservatively at Stade de France. He believes Wales have to counter the French by producing a blitzkrieg opening — and then staying positive all game.
He said: “Something we have tried to instil in the guys this week is to go out there, look forward to it, be bold and have a real good crack.
“We will try not to wait until half-time this week.
“Paris is a wonderful place to go. It’s a great rugby arena and there is nothing quite like playing France out there. It’s loud, it’s noisy.
“France are going to come out smarting after losing to Italy, and it is going to be a fierce opening, but you wouldn’t expect anything else from them in Paris. It doesn’t really change how we approach this game.
“What will I say to the boys before the start? I will judge things on the day, but we have to be bold and brave from the first minute, leaving nothing to chance. You can always hold your head up higher that way. Let us give it a real crack.”
Warburton failed to recover from a stinger injury picked up against Ireland.
He had been tipped to play at blindside flanker, but the word was that Tipuric would have played regardless, the Trebanos product making a big impact off the bench last weekend, helping Wales claw back 19 points after they trailed 30-3 when he came on.
“Tips is a wonderful individual,” said Jones.
“He has a skill-set that is different from most. I genuinely believe he could play almost anywhere on the field.
“He deserves his chance and is slightly different from the other sevens we have in the squad or have had in the past. We saw Andrew Coombs come in last week and do a great job. The ball is firmly in Tips’s court.
“Hopefully, by complementing him and allowing him to do his thing, we can let him excel at this level.”
Hibbard, out of favour after giving a way two key penalties in the second Test defeat by Australia in the summer, has forced the selectors to pick him after a series of outstanding displays for the Ospreys.
Howley said: “He has been the in-form hooker in the regions, a good ball carrier, and the challenge for him now is to bring his Ospreys form to the national set-up.
“I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
Howley added: “The key for me this week has been to create that bit of unity and trust within the coaching team and playing group.
“By the very nature of international sport the media try to split the atom, the players and the coaches.
“The one thing this environment has created over the past four years is a unified coaching team and playing group. I’ve been working on that over the past 72 hours, because to be successful in sport you need unity and trust.
“How does being head coach differ from being assistant coach? It’s your head in terms of selection and getting that right.”