Jones ready for last chance
November 27, 2008
Mark Jones has been limited to an appearance against Canada this autumn, but will be ready and waiting for the Wallabies © Getty Images
Wales wing Mark Jones has endured a difficult autumn series, with a knee injury ruling him out of their opening clash with South Africa and the emergence of Leigh Halfpenny keeping him on the sidelines.
Scarlets wing Jones continued putting in the hard yards and, after watching Wales' Millennium Stadium appointments with South Africa and New Zealand, he will be back at the sharp end against Australia on Saturday. While 19-year-old Halfpenny is rested following an impressive bow on the international stage, Jones will run out for a 43rd international appearance.
"Every time you pull the shirt on you have to perform," he said. "I've been under no illusions about that from the first day I played. At this level, if players can't handle the pressure then they are in the wrong game, I suppose. It's up to me to try and deal with that pressure and put in a good performance for the team.
"Being picked though, is the easy bit. The difficult bit is playing well on the weekend and vindicating your selection. It's the usual scenario. If I go out and make three or four errors early on, people are going to be saying 'What's he doing back in the team?' You are always going to have that pressure, but you have just got to get on with it. One thing you will always get from me is 100% effort."
Jones is quick to commend Halfpenny, whose meteoric rise saw him catapulted into action against the Springboks having only played six games of regional rugby. Halfpenny's big chance came about after Jones failed to recover from knee trouble in time to take his place. And by the time Wales met New Zealand a fortnight later, Halfpenny's form had established him as first-choice wing, leaving Jones and even IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams sweating over their places.
"Leigh has come in from playing very well at Under-20 level and half a dozen games with Cardiff Blues, to then having some good performances for Wales," added Jones. "It put pressure on me to try to get back in the team. It is about trying to play well when you get the opportunity. You are never sure whether or not you are going to be playing, and I think it's the same if you have got 100 caps or one cap.
"The competition among the squad is fierce. I was preparing myself for the worst really, I suppose, and getting selected would be a bonus. The pressure is to go out and help Wales win a game, and I am pleased that Warren thinks I am able to do that. Shane is IRB player of the year and the new kid on the block has been playing well. To think I can come in and add a little bit, I would like to think means he (Gatland) holds me in a good regard. I want to try and repay Warren now for that respect."
Wales produced a superb second-half showing when they faced the Springboks, and an extremely competitive first-half display against the All Blacks. They lost both games however and unusually failed to score a try in either contest.
These facts mean that Wales have once chance left if they are to claim a southern hemisphere scalp this autumn. Jones said, "As long as the team provide opportunities, we are capable of taking them, but we've got to be far more clinical in that area. I don't think you can rate the whole autumn series on whether or not we actually win a game against one of the big three teams, but the fact people are disappointed we haven't done it so far says a lot about where we've come from.
"The South Africa game still haunts a few of the boys because it was there for the taking. And if you look at the way we started against New Zealand, to then be only 9-6 up at half-time, the boys were frustrated with that. It is a good opportunity for us on the weekend, but Australia are on a good run at the moment."
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter