x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Six Nations: Ryan Jones a refreshing option to Chris Robshaw for Lions' captaincy

His captaincy for Wales is giving Lions a refreshing option along with England's Chris Robshaw, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Teammates have given a ringing endorsement to Ryan Jones in the captain's armband for Wales at the Six Nations. Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
Teammates have given a ringing endorsement to Ryan Jones in the captain's armband for Wales at the Six Nations. Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

If Chris Robshaw is named as the British & Irish Lions captain when the touring party lines up against Australia in Brisbane on June 22 in the first Test, the England flanker will be indebted to Ryan Jones.

Jones has usurped Sam Warburton, a leading candidate for the Lions captaincy at the start of the Six Nations, to the armband of Wales this season and leads out a team against Scotland at Murrayfield today that has a slim chance of taking the title.

Last year's grand-slam side have come a long way in just two matches under Jones's cool-headed stewardship after he stepped in for the injured Warburton.

Since Wales's reverse at the hands of Ireland in Cardiff on the opening weekend of the Championship they have, under Jones, posted their biggest victory in Paris for 38 years and routed the Italians in Rome.

It is quite a turnaround, given that the loss to Ireland was their eighth successive defeat. Yet, when you look at Jones's record it is hardly a surprise.

He will be 32 next week. His experience is drawn from 73 appearances in a Wales jersey and he has captained his country more times than any other player.

He will need every ounce of savvy he has picked up in his 32 outings as skipper if his side are to derail England's probable grand-slam bid in Cardiff next week, following their encounter with Italy at Twickenham tomorrow.

Where players would follow Warburton due to his work rate and derring-do on the pitch, Jones's style of leadership is more intellectual.

"Striding languidly among his teammates, having a word here, a tap on the shoulder there, he seems to have time enough on his hands with no outward sense of urgency," wrote Gerald Davies, the former Wales and Lions player.

"As he mingles among his troops he appears calm and avuncular in gesture and conduct.

"He is the kind of man, you begin to feel, with whom you would happily enter an uncharted Amazonian forest, knowing that with him you would find your way through to the clear daylight at the end.

"Not only that, but chances are you might have a good time on the way. He is held in high respect by his peers on the field."

Warburton agrees with Davies's view, albeit more prosaically.

"Ryan is the best captain I've played under, so I have no qualms with him leading the side," he said.

"He has a wealth of experience and tactically he's very clued in."

If anything, Jones's re-emergence in a Welsh jersey puts him in pole position to assume the mantle of Lions captain should anything happen to Robshaw between now and July.

As Robshaw's man-of-the-match performances as England's captain in their victories over Ireland and France put forward his case, so in contrast his main rivals have fallen away.

Brian O'Driscoll was at his very best in Cardiff in Week 1 but has been outshone in the outside centre position by England's Manu Tuilagi.

Jamie Heaslip, who controversially was appointed captain of Ireland ahead of O'Driscoll, has not enjoyed a seamless tournament and lags behind Scotland's Johnnie Beattie, England's Tom Wood and Jones himself in the No 8 position.

Warren Gatland, the Lions and former Wales coach, appointed Jones to the captaincy of Wales in 2008.

The team promptly won the grand slam for a second time in four years.

Andy Irvine, the Lions tour manager, this week said players like Jones had stood up to be counted in the first three rounds of the tournament.

"We are going to have a combination of an old guard that have been there and got the badge of honour, so to speak, and some really exciting youngsters," he said. "The next two weeks are absolutely crucial. It's an old cliche, but there is still an awful lot to play for.

"It's Warren's call because ultimately he is responsible for selection."

Should Wales beat Scotland today, and England beat Italy tomorrow, Jones's clash with Robshaw will add another dimension to next week's title decider.

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