Jones ready for next challenge
October 16, 2008
Wales' Jamie Roberts shows off his country's hi-tech new strip © Getty Images
Ryan Jones wants reigning Six Nations champions Wales to "kick on" when they face Tri-Nations heavyweights South Africa, New Zealand and Australia next month.
But last season's Grand Slam winners have suffered an early injury blow ahead of the punishing November schedule. Ospreys flanker Jonathan Thomas looks certain to miss the entire autumn programme - Wales also host Canada at the Millennium Stadium - because of a groin problem. Thomas, who has won 46 caps and played throughout last season's Six Nations campaign, will undergo surgery tomorrow.
He could be sidelined for six weeks, and the 25-year-old will not be considered by Wales coach Warren Gatland when he names his autumn Test squad next Tuesday. Thomas' absence could mean a recall for in-form Cardiff Blues back-row man Andy Powell, while the Scarlets' experienced Dafydd Jones is another option.
The obvious replacement would have been Gloucester's Gareth Delve, but he is currently recovering from a long-term injury. Ospreys physiotherapist Chris Towers said: "Jonathan has been suffering from a gradually worsening groin injury which, up until now, hasn't stopped him playing.
"Having assessed his condition on Wednesday, a decision was made to refer him to a specialist, who has identified the need for surgery."
Ryan Jones, meanwhile, knows Wales will come under an intense spotlight next month, starting against world champions South Africa on November 8.
Two Grand Slams in the last four seasons might satisfy most Welsh supporters, but skipper Jones knows the real form gauge will be provided by the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies. He said: "The important thing for us is to kick on. We had a good Grand Slam, and we must keep progressing and building, both as a team and as individuals.
"I didn't feel we did ourselves justice in South Africa during the summer, certainly not in the first Test. We are going out there next month to perform. We are pitching ourselves against the best teams in the world, and we will certainly see how good we are in six weeks' time."
Gatland has requested the release of his squad members from regional duties after next week's penultimate round of EDF Energy Cup pool games. But all four Welsh regions could still be in the hunt for semi-final places the following weekend, when the Blues host Bath, Scarlets tackle Northampton, Newport Gwent Dragons visit Wasps and Ospreys travel to London Irish.
The Ospreys for instance, who feature the likes of Jones, Shane Williams, Gavin Henson and James Hook, meet Irish just six days before the Springboks Test. Talks are continuing between the regions and Welsh Rugby Union chiefs to reach what WRU chairman David Pickering hopes will be an amicable outcome.
Pickering said: "We are trying to create an environment of harmony. The regions have been fantastic in their release time over the last year. What they've done in terms of helping the international team, I am fully appreciative of.
"We appreciate there are conflicting interests, but we will take our time and aim to deliver the most amicable way possible for the players, who are core in this, and also for Welsh rugby. It is a private discussion. We've asked them [the regions] to look at various periods of preparation, and I don't want to go into it any more than that because it is between us and them.
"We just like to do things as amicably as possible."
Pickering was speaking as Wales unveiled their new kit for the 2008/09 season - provided in a multi-million pound deal with America-based company Under Armour.
The kit underwent rigorous testing during Wales squad sessions overseen by Gatland. "Under Armour took on a challenge to produce the Welsh kit, but the result has exceeded everyone's expectations, both in design and functionality," said Gatland. "This kit is lighter and more durable than anything we've worn before."