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Wales highlight the most improved aspect of their play in 2021 and salute Alun Wyn Jones' influence this week

By Liam Heagney

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With chasing a Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam an experience that is all very new to Wales coach Wayne Pivac, he has been more than happy to allow veteran skipper Alun Wyn Jones to do some heavy lifting in motivating the team for this Saturday’s round five finale away to France.

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Having been around since 2006, Jones, the world’s most-capped Test player ever with 147 Wales appearances and another nine for the Lions, is old hat when it comes to getting ready for these big occasions.

He has been involved in their three Grand Slams of recent vintage as well as the 2013 Six Nations title win, so it’s no wonder that the 35-year-old’s voice has been crystal clear in geeing up his Wales team this week to go and win in Paris with an XV showing one change from last weekend in Rome, Adam Beard taking over from Cory Hill at lock.

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England World Cup winner Neil Back guests on RugbyPass Offload with Dylan Hartley and Ryan Wilson
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England World Cup winner Neil Back guests on RugbyPass Offload with Dylan Hartley and Ryan Wilson

“There is a lot of little conversations that go on between coaches and players and in little groups within the team,” explained Wales boss Pivac. “Those conversations have taken place. I know Alun Wyn, in one of his chats earlier in the week, talked about that exact thing.

“Saturday is when we need to bring all the mental energy and physically be right so this week is really about getting the boys to Saturday with a full tank of gas. We need to make sure we don’t over-train and overplay the game and think the game too early on.”

Asked to be more specific about the content of Jones’ patter, Pivac added: “We don’t want to give too much away but certainly it is just good coming from the older head, some words of wisdom from his point of view that is shared with the younger players. He has got so much experience. When he does talk in these situations everybody listens and it’s invaluable having him.”

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Pivac’s first year in the job as Wales coach wasn’t kind, a six-match losing streak igniting allegations that he had lost the dressing room. However, he managed to see out 2020 with wins over minnows Georgia and Italy sandwiched by a Llanelli loss to England and hasn’t looked back since, that autumnal pain turning into a springtime flourish.

“Probably the set-piece,” replied Pivac when quizzed on the aspect that has been the greatest 2021 improvement in Wales’ play. “In the autumn there was a lot of rotation. We were learning about players and it was a conscious effort to do that.

“With that came a bit of pain but certainly our scrum is improving, the discipline at scrum time is improving, our shape is really good, we’re working together, our lineout has improved. So the set-piece is a big one.

“As we saw in the autumn when that is not functioning as well as you would like it puts a lot of pressure on your attack and conversely it gives a lot of ball to the opposition. Your defence is overworked at times. That is probably the big thing. Obviously, our defence has tightened up as well and you wrap it all up with good discipline.”

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The return to rude health of seasoned pair Ken Owens and Josh Navidi has also been pivotal to that pack improvement. “They are very, very good players. Ken has got the most caps as a hooker. That’s invaluable and he is a class player with and without the ball and away from the set-piece.

“Josh is a player who has had his injuries in the last season or two but when he is out there and he gets a run of games together he is one of the players who is world-class. We are very pleased to have both players back.”

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Wales highlight the most improved aspect of their play in 2021 and salute Alun Wyn Jones' influence this week

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