Jones-Hughes set for Championship debut
January 31, 2000
Jason Jones-Hughes will make his championship debut for Wales in next Saturday's Lloyds TSB Six Nations opener against France, and admitted tonight: ``I feel at home here now.''
The Sydney-born Australian, who qualifies for Wales courtesy of his Welsh father, replaces the injured Scott Gibbs as one of two changes from the side beaten by Australia in last October's World Cup quarter-final. Although 23-year-old Jones-Hughes featured during the World Cup, this will be his first taste of European Rugby's showpiece international tournament.
With Northampton centre Allan Bateman not considered because of injury, Jones-Hughes had no real opponents for the inside centre berth, and he will partner Swansea's Mark Taylor in midfield. Wales coach Graham Henry has made one other change from the Wallabies defeat, calling up Pontypridd lock Ian Gough instead of the unfit Craig Quinnell.
Henry resisted the temptation to field uncapped Neath wing, Shane Williams, making instead what he termed a ``horses for courses'' decision by sticking with Llanelli's Dafydd James.
Jones-Hughes has endured an often tortuous time since turning his back on Australia last year and following an international route opened up by his Colwyn Bay-born father. The International Rugby Board initially barred him from representing Wales, a decision he saw overturned on appeal, then registration deadlines sidelined him from European Shield action with his club, Newport.
``It was a very frustrating time, but I am thankful now that that is a chapter of my rugby career that is all gone,'' he said.
``I've been here for four months or so now, and I feel at home. I've got my own place in Cardiff, as opposed to living out of a hotel, and I am really looking forward to playing a part in the Six Nations Championship.
``It is very exciting for me to be part of this tournament, and I am especially looking forward to playing again at the Millennium Stadium, which is an unbelievable venue.''
Henry described the prospect of tackling the World Cup runners-up as ``a huge challenge,'' and one that he must face without front-line players like Gibbs, Quinnell and Bateman.
``Those players are not available, so there is no point dwelling on it. France, on paper, are probably the best team in the Six Nations, packed with very experienced players.
``France played superbly to beat New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals, proving that on their day the French can play as well as anyone in the world, if not better.
Wales finished the last Five Nations Tournament on a high, recording back-to-back victories over France - there are 11 survivors from the team that triumphed in Paris - and England, and then embarking on a lengthy unbeaten run which ended with their shock World Cup group defeat by Samoa.
``Our goal for the Six Nations is to be better than we were last season,'' Henry said. ``We need to move further up the graph.''
Wales will be led by a new captain, prop David Young having taken over the captaincy from his Cardiff and British Lions colleague, Rob Howley, and is relishing the task.
``We must look to better the standards we set last year, and we know that France will be on a high after the World Cup,'' Young said.
``But we are back in Cardiff for our first championship match since 1997, and we will be looking to turn the Millennium Stadium into the sort of intimidating atmosphere for France that opposing teams experience when they play in Paris.''
Henry has included two uncapped players among his replacements, the exciting Williams and Ebbw Vale scrum-half Richard Smith.
Wales team to play France in the Six Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday: