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Rugby World Cup 2011
Jones salutes Welsh young guns
ESPNscrum Staff
October 5, 2011

Stephen Jones has been overwhelmed by the performances of Wales' youngsters in the 2011 Rugby World Cup and feels that the current squad is the strongest he has ever been a part of.

The likes of Sam Warburton, 22, Toby Faletau, 20, and George North, 19, have lit up the tournament in New Zealand and propelled Wales into the knockout stages on the back of successive wins over Samoa, Namibia and Fiji. Indeed, after opening with an agonising defeat by a South Africa side which appeared there for the taken, Warren Gatland's side have regrouped impressively and are approaching Saturday's mouth-watering quarter-final clash with Ireland with renewed confidence.

Indeed, Jones admitted that spirits within the Welsh camp are incredibly high and he puts that all down to all of the fresh faces in the squad.

"Team morale is fantastic," Jones said. "The younger players have a high rugby ability, and they've gone out there and enjoyed throwing the ball around. They have been top-drawer.

"They are fearless. They back themselves, and the fact so many good youngsters have come through, put their hand up and raised the bar has really had a good knock-on effect throughout the whole squad.

"It is certainly the most competitive squad I have been a part of. It is a nice situation for the coaches to be in. It is great for us that everyone is challenging and everyone is knocking on the door. You have got to enjoy these challenges as players."

The performances of North have really caught the attention of the New Zealand public and Jones is delighted that the teenager is making such a name for himself on the game's grandest stage.

"George is a great person, such a likeable guy," he said of his Scarlets team-mate. "He is a good professional who works very hard on his game. He is ambitious, and I can't speak highly enough of the guy. He is top-drawer. He deserves all the credit he gets as far as I am concerned."

However, while Jones insists that Wales could not be in better shape going into their last eight meeting with the Irish, he is very wary of the threat posed by a side which produced the performance of the tournament to date by upsetting Australia before then going on to clinch top spot in Pool C last weekend with an impressive win over Italy.

"Both teams are going into this game on the back of good performances, and I am sure the mood is high in both camps. It's a big situation," the former British & Irish Lion said.

"It is special, simple as that, because of the excitement, the occasion and what it means. It is the quarter-final of the World Cup.

"We play against their players in our domestic campaign, and internationally quite a bit too, and we know them well, but this is going to be a special game - a one-off, winner takes all.

"A mixture in our performance is key. What we can't become is predictable in our attack. We have to have variety, and I am confident the game plan we have gives us that.

"What is important is we implement that and try to manipulate defences so we can play a great style of rugby. We need to go out and express ourselves. There is good belief. We need to be brave and play with a lot of excitement.

"It is purely concentrating on ourselves, getting our own house in order and ensuring we are as prepared as we can be. We need to make sure we deliver a performance."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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