France v Wales, Six Nations Championship, February 27
New-look Jones relishing Gatland regime
February 26, 2009
Adam Jones has enjoyed a new lease of life under Warren Gatland © Getty Images
Wales prop Adam Jones is preparing to take on France at the Stade de France as one of the important cogs in their dramatic improvement up front, only three years after he was deemed too unfit to play more than 30 minutes of a Test match.
Former Wales boss Steve Hansen, now a coach with the All Blacks, substituted Jones before the half-hour mark in four Test matches during 2003, including the World Cup quarter-final against England, a tough thing to take for a youthful player.
"I had to take it on the chins, so to speak," Jones quipped. "At times, when I wasn't playing well for anyone, I didn't know what to do with myself.
"It wasn't the best, it wasn't a nice feeling. It is something that affects your family, more than anything. Yes, it affected me, but my parents - who are flat-out fans as well - see their son having a bit of a slating, and it's not nice for them. I have got over it now. I spoke to Hansen about it for the first time during the autumn, and argued my case over a pint.
"Even if I wasn't fit enough, you've got enough adrenalin to get to at least 40 or 41 minutes. I think he went about it the wrong way because he didn't tell me, although I think he had a point as well.
"That was three years ago. I've had hard times, but I think I have developed as a player. I felt a lot of resentment towards Steve, but I couldn't speak to him because I didn't have the balls to do it. I was quite a young player then. Now, I would speak to the coach about it, but I didn't have the confidence then to go and ask."
Since Warren Gatland took over the Wales reins at the end of 2007 Jones has been on a strict fitness push, shedding weight and improving his mobility around the field. He has started 10 of Gatland's 13 Tests in charge and lasted the full 80 minutes against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in November.
"It's been huge for me since the new coaches came in," he said. "It is more focused now. I've been told I need to shed a few pounds, and if I don't, then I won't play for the team. I am not allowed to bulk up. I am strictly losing the pounds, my numbers have to come down. I am trying my hardest to do it."
Gatland has forged a tight and cohesive unit out of the Wales front-five, and under his tutelage Jones has become a constant presence at the breakdown and a solid scrummager. His superb work-rate sets him apart from many props, and he is an outside bet for a place on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa later this year.
"For us to be able to compete with the best teams in the world, we've got to have 15 or 22 of the best athletes," said Gatland. "Adam has still got a way to go, but the improvements he has made have been enormous.
"The fact he's hitting 10 more rucks this year than he was last year is a nice amount of progress, and he also chased into his 22 and tackled someone like (England full-back) Delon Armitage last week. Some of the front five don't get a lot of credit for the number of tackles they make, the number of rucks they hit and a lot of the donkey work they do.
"That donkey work allows the flashy, good-looking guys to be able to score all the tries. Adam has been really good. I wouldn't mind if he got a haircut, though."