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Ever-reliable Wales rugby star Ryan Jones steadies ship with valuable experience

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 20, 2013

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VIA Veneto has little in common with Wembley Way, but Ryan Jones hopes both streets will see Welsh celebrations this weekend.

A goalkeeper with Bristol City before he changed sports at the age of 16, the national rugby captain is hoping for a rare Welsh double — a win for Wales in Rome followed by a Capital One Cup final triumph for Swansea City in London 24 hours later.

"I'm just gutted I can't make Wembley," said Jones when asked about Swansea's march to within 90 minutes of silverware.

"I think it's wonderful, amazing for Welsh sport, and brilliant for the city of Swansea.

"I am a big fan and I just want to wish them all the best.

"It'll be nice to have some silverware brought home."

But before Michu and Co contend with Bradford City, Wales have to deal with Castro and Co at Stadio Olimpico, a game for which they could be forgiven for feeling nervous about given Italy's inconsistency in this campaign to date.

A famous, memorable victory over France was followed by a dismal, awful defeat by Scotland, prompting suggestions that talk of an Italian breakthrough on the Six Nations stage had been premature.

The question is whether the lot who tamed the French will show up on Saturday or the crew who beat such a disappointing retreat at Murrayfield.

Wales have to get their preparations right, mentally as much as anything else, and fortunately for them they can tap into Jones's vast experience as captain.

He will lead Wales for the 31st time on Saturday, an ongoing record.

Some might view as delicate a situation where Jones has taken over the leadership mid-term from Sam Warburton, who is on the bench for the date with Martin Castrogiovanni and the rest of the Azzurri, but the Osprey doesn't buy any such idea.

"It's only a title, isn't it," he said.

"I'm just happy to be involved. The role and tag that comes with that — so be it.

"It makes no difference to me whether I'm captain game by game or for the duration.

"It's about preparing and contributing to this team. I want to be part of a successful national side, so whatever role that requires from me, I'm more than happy to go along with it."

Wales turned to Jones to steady a ship that had been rocking after the defeat by Ireland on the opening weekend of the championship.

He responded with one of the displays of his career, drawing on all his experience to guide Rob Howley's side to a priceless win.

Barry John enthused afterwards: "Ryan Jones, to my mind, stands alone in producing an amazing display which had everything you would want from an elder statesman in difficult times.

"He controlled his game and his team, and his performance was so instrumental that any previous Welsh captain would have been proud of it.

"It was the stuff of legend and brought everything good out of his team."

But Wales still had the problem of what to do about Sam.

Warburton, after all, had been given the armband at the outset of the campaign. Injury had ruled him out for Paris, but all the signs pointed to the Blues man being fit and well for Italy. Would he be recalled as captain?

Impossible, after Jones's performance in Paris.

Howley made the correct call that the leadership should stay with the 31-year-old, with Warburton having to bide his time on the bench.

Jones insists such an arrangement doesn't affect his relationship with the openside.

"I have the utmost respect for Sam, who's a mate of mine," he said.

"From the moment he took over, I've always tried to be there for him.

"We've chatted over various things, from the on-field technical stuff to how your role within a group functions. They're all experiences I've passed on.

"But Sam is very much his own man and has to do it his way. You have to be true and honest to yourself because the one sure thing is that a group of rugby boys are ruthless.

"If you are not honest to yourself you'll get found out pretty quickly.

"Sam's been great and I've encouraged him to still be vocal and visible because essentially it's still his team.

"He's squad captain and this group needs a confident guy in Sam Warburton who's playing well. So if I can help him out in any way that's what I want to do."

As captain, Jones doesn't pretend to be something he is not.

He isn't in the business of reinventing the wheel and he doesn't see his job as having to come up with a solution for every problem. Instead, it is about using his experience to make decisions and do all he can to help others play to potential.

"Leadership isn't for everyone," he added.

"A lot has been made about it, but it isn't a conscious thing.

"I don't profess to have the answers to every single situation. There are far better rugby players on that field than me. It's about facilitating others.

"Some guys will emerge as leaders no matter what their age. It's about getting the balance right, encouraging others and making the right decisions at the right time."

Ten per cent skill, 90 per cent luck, Richie Benaud said of captaincy, before adding: "But don't try it without that ten per cent."

Jones has that ten per cent.

In a testing environment like the one Wales will face on Saturday, it can make all the difference.

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