x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gatland puts his faith in Jones

Alun-Wyn Jones, the giant Ospreys lock, will become the youngest forward to captain his country in 75 years when Wales play Italy in Rome.

The France head coach Marc Lievremont talks tactic with his players ahead of the Six Nations match with England on Sunday.
The France head coach Marc Lievremont talks tactic with his players ahead of the Six Nations match with England on Sunday.

Alun-Wyn Jones, the giant Ospreys lock, will become the youngest forward to captain his country in 75 years when Wales play Italy in Rome. Jones takes over from Wales' 2008 Six Nations captain Ryan Jones, who finds himself on the bench, and will lead a side showing nine changes and one positional switch following defeat against France in Paris last time out.

And Scarlets wing Mark Jones, one of the raft of players called up by Wales coach Warren Gatland, has no doubt the reigning champions are in safe hands. "He is an excellent player," said Jones. "I've got huge respect for him. He always works hard and speaks very well, too. "He will do a tremendous job, I am sure. He leads by his own performance, and that is about all you can ask." Wales are widely expected to cruise past an Italian side who have lost their three Six Nations games this season, conceding 100 points and 12 tries in the process.

Italy coach Nick Mallett has handed uncapped Giulio Rubini a starting berth for the game, the Parma utility back replacing Mirco Bergamasco at No 14, with the latter shifting to centre. Mallett has made one other change from the team who lost 26-6 against Scotland at Murrayfield, with Carlos Nieto replacing Martin Castrogiovanni in Italy's starting XV. Scotland's highly rated Max Evans and Jim Hamilton are relishing the prospect of lining up against Ireland greats Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell at Murrayfield tomorrow.

Evans will go head-to-head with fellow centre O'Driscoll for the first time, while Hamilton is looking forward to renewing hostilities with O'Connell in the second row. "I'm really excited," said Evans. "The fact I haven't played against O'Driscoll yet in any of the Magners League games seems a bit crazy. In a way, it's almost a good thing for me because he hasn't played against me either." Edinburgh lock Hamilton believes the Ireland match will give him an idea of how he rates against the world's best.

"They base their game a lot around Paul O'Connell," said Hamilton. "He is the cornerstone of their team. "Everything from the line-out, to carrying the ball, to resetting the game - it all goes to him. "I've played against him a few times and testing yourself against the best guy in your position arguably in the world at the minute, you can't ask any more, can you? "That's where I find out where I'm at."

Lawrence Dallaglio is perplexed by Martin Johnson's decision to drop Paul Sackey in favour of Ugo Monye for England's game against France on Sunday. "If I was Paul Sackey I would feel quite hard done by, I would feel quite upset," said Dallaglio. "They have argued Paul's form is not up to scratch - but they have replaced him with a player who has hardly played. I am slightly confused by that."

* With agencies