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'We've won out there before and there's no reason why we can't go and do it again'

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 08, 2013

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WHEN Adam Jones is asked about France, there is no mention of the haute cuisine or high culture one would usually associate with the country.

While visitors of the Louvre and Pompidou may eulogise about France's rich artistic history and the genetic flamboyance of its people, Jones will tell you quite a different story.

That's because, at 31 years old, the Wales prop is just about old enough to recall in grisly detail what an ordeal matches across the Channel could be for Welsh clubs.

"I went to Beziers with Neath when I was about 20 years old," he says. "It was a nice ground but there were a lot of knees and fingers going where they shouldn't have been.

"It was a good experience. I think I only came on as a substitute but it was the first time I'd ever seen anything like it — it was also my first experience of free wine in an after-match marquee!

"It's a totally different game now. Years ago you'd go over there and you'd have to kick someone in the face. You've got to be aggressive and front up physically but you're not going to gouge someone or smack someone like some might have done in the past.

"Someone grabbed hold of my hair during the game but that sort of stuff doesn't happen anymore."

Nobody could argue that the blood-stained assault course of modern day Test rugby is for the faint-hearted, but the sport is certainly more refined than it was when Jones began his career.

That much is clear to see from a mere glance at the venue where Wales will play France in the Six Nations tomorrow.

The Stade de France is one of the grandest sporting arenas in Europe, an elegant, sweeping monument which stands proudly alongside the Parisian skyline's sea of stylish landmarks.

It can also be an intimidating place. Winning at any French ground is a feat, never mind the home of the national side, though Wales have done so more than most at the Stade de France.

Since it was built for the 1998 football World Cup, Wales have triumphed in three of their seven visits to the stadium.

Jones was a part of the Welsh side which claimed one of those victories on the way to their 2005 Grand Slam, and the Ospreys front-rower knows what to expect this weekend.

Physical

"The last few times I've played there it's been the same," he warns. "You've got to be physical because that's what they'll bring. They concentrate on the set-piece, with a driving line-out.

"Then all of a sudden they can throw it about and start playing a bit. It's a strange feeling when you can feel the crowd lift.

"But you can also quieten the crowd if you get on top of them. They feed off the crowd. We know how hard it's going to be but, if we pull our finger out, we can get a result."

Like Wales, France will enter tomorrow's encounter having endured a miserable start to their Six Nations campaign.

While Rob Howley's men were beaten 30-22 at home by Ireland, Les Bleus suffered the ignominy of a second ever defeat to Italy.

Some believe the loss in Rome will prompt a fierce response from France, while others reckon it hinted at a weakness that Wales could expose.

Jones is undecided.

"Your initial reaction is 'oh, no, they've lost to Italy'," he says, "but there were certain bits when they looked rudderless and relying on certain talismanic carriers.

"If you catch them on a good day, you know it's going to be a hard day at the office. The last couple of times we've been there they've scored some tries perhaps they shouldn't have.

"We've won out there before and there's no reason why we can't do it again."

If Wales are to rekindle the spirit of bygone Parisian glories, they will certainly need to improve on the dismal first 45 minutes which saw them fall 30-3 behind to Ireland.

"We were pretty shocking last week," Jones admits.

"Some say they don't listen to what people say but you do and it was obviously very negative. It's a different week now and a different kettle of fish.

"Let's see how good our pack actually is in France."

The battle up front will be as pivotal as ever tomorrow, and Wales have opted to bolster their pack by recalling three of Jones's Ospreys team-mates.

Richard Hibbard returns at hooker and Ryan Jones will captain the side at blindside flanker, while Justin Tipuric has been selected on the openside — and Jones expects the latter to impress in Paris.

"Everyone's been raving about how well Justin's been playing recently, so it's up to him to go out and prove it now," he says.

"He's obviously a very good player. He's been outstanding for the Ospreys.

"He's almost like a centre in a forward's body. He could probably play in the centre and he's got an extremely good skill set with his passing and kicking.

"He's very good over the ball and in the contact area as well. As much as I don't want to praise him too much, he's got the full package."

Hibbard is another player Jones knows well, having packed down alongside the hooker for a number of years at the Ospreys.

While Hibbard's regional form saw him named the region's player of the year last season, he has not yet reached the same heights with Wales — but Jones believes that will change in this campaign.

Horrible

"He's got the ideal size and skills for a hooker," the prop says. "He's a big ball-carrier, good at the set-piece and he's horrible too. He's got it all.

"He's had a few issues like me where he might have enjoyed a few too many bars of chocolate, but he's worked hard and he's in the best shape of his career now.

"Smack him in the forehead and you'd see how much your hand would hurt. He'll put his head in anywhere.

"He's an excellent player. He always has been for the Ospreys and now he's stepped up."

Tomorrow's match could be a defining moment for Hibbard's hopes of keeping his place in the Welsh side.

And having been humbled by Ireland on the opening weekend, Jones knows the entire team will have to step up in Paris.

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