Jones not assured of Six Nations place
January 18, 2009
Wales skipper Ryan Jones has a fight on his hands for a Six Nations starting spot © Getty Images
Wales boss Warren Gatland has warned his skipper Ryan Jones that he is not assured selection for the Six Nations after their back-row options increased with the emergence of Andy Powell and the return to fitness of Jonathan Thomas.
With Martyn Williams guaranteed of his place on the openside flank, Jones, Powell and Thomas are now fighting for two places in the Wales back-row ahead of their Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 8.
With Powell the find of the season after his barnstorming performances from No.8 during the autumn internationals and Thomas Wales' lineout captain, an area of expertise that is needed by Wales after their shaky set-piece during the autumn, Jones may well be struggling should he not find form quickly.
"Ryan is aware that his selection isn't automatic just because he is captain," Gatland told Wales on Sunday. "He has to perform and there is nobody more aware of that than him. He knows over the last 12 months his selection has been under scrutiny.
"Having said that, his performance against Australia was first class. The big test for Ryan is that he started slowly in the last Six Nations and in the autumn Tests. He finished those campaigns really strongly. If he does play against Scotland, he has to start well."
Jones was tipped as a potential Lions skipper following his superb form in leading Wales to the Grand Slam last season, and was a nominee for IRB World Player of the Year, so his apparent fall in stature will be a worry for both the player and Gatland.
"There is a lot of pressure and a load of demands on a Wales captain," said Gatland. "The important thing is that Ryan plays well, leads from the front and by example. After the 2005 Lions tour, he was really talked up and I think he has a tendency to try too hard. He has sometimes tried to carry the weight of the whole country on his shoulders. He doesn't need to do that and just needs to concentrate on his own performance.
"If he does that it will be good for him and the team. If he gives us the performance he did against Australia, we will be more than happy."
Gatland will be waiting with baited breath for the results of a scan on Ospreys fullback Lee Byrne's injury sustained against Perpignan in the Heineken Cup on Saturday. Byrne limped off on 37 minutes in France after a collision with scrum-half Mike Phillips and will be assessed on Sunday.