Thu, Feb 22, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Wales' Jones looking for improvement against France

AFP , CARDIFF

France's David Skrela, foreground, passes the ball as team coach Bernard Laporte looks on during a training session in Marcoussis, France, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Wales captain Stephen Jones has been stunned at the level of personal criticism he has endured since leading the team during their 21-9 Six Nations defeat away to Scotland earlier this month.

That result left Wales with a record of played two, lost two in this season's Six Nations after a 19-9 defeat against Ireland at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

To make matters worse, for all the talk of the "Welsh Way" of running, attacking rugby espoused by under-pressure coach Gareth Jenkins, Wales have now gone two games without a try.

Only Italy's inferior points difference is keeping Wales off the bottom of the table and, on Saturday, Jones's men have the daunting task of attempting to record their first win of this Six Nations against leaders and reigning champions France in Paris.

In the only country in Europe where it is not unusual for rugby union, rather than soccer, to dominate the sports pages, Wales's form in general and Jones's in particular has come under intense scrutiny.

Although the outside-half has kicked all of Wales's points thus far in this Six Nations, a fans' poll in the Western Mail, the national daily newspaper of Wales, suggested he should be dropped in favor of the talented James Hook.

Currently playing in midfield for Wales, Hook starred at No. 10 when replacing the injured Jones during a thrilling 29-29 draw against Australia at the Millennium Stadium last November.

The Murrayfield match was Wales's fifth defeat in eight Tests and meant they hadn't beaten a major nation since defeating Scotland a year ago -- then coach Mike Ruddock's final game before his shock resignation.

Jones, however, insisted Wales could bounce back.

"The criticism is frustrating from a personal aspect and from a team perspective. I was out of Wales for two years [playing for France's Clermont] and you sometimes forget how much rugby is in the spotlight here. It has been a bit of an eye-opener to be honest," he said.

"We realize there is a huge responsibility that goes with playing for Wales and you have to live up to that responsibility," insisted Jones, installed as captain for the World Cup in France in September by Jenkins even before the start of the Six Nations.

"We have a tough challenge now against France and we have got to make Welsh rugby proud again. The Scotland game was particularly poor but we have a lot of talent in the side and if we play to our potential we will score tries," Jones said.

Jenkins, backed by the Welsh Rugby Union after they received complaints from angry fans about players being allowed a night out in Edinburgh, insisted Llanelli's Jones wouldn't buckle under the pressure and neither would he.

"Stephen is a quality man. I haven't had to keep his chin up. He is very realistic and he's managing himself very well," Jenkins said.

And as for questioning of his selection and tactics, former Llanelli coach Jenkins said it came as part of the job.

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