x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Wales captaincy not a lock for No 8 Jones

Wales coach Gatland will wait to pick leader after squad selection for their autumn international fixtures.

Ryan Jones, of Wales, has not been in top form over the last two seasons.
Ryan Jones, of Wales, has not been in top form over the last two seasons.

Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, has not named a captain as part of his 33-man squad for their autumn international fixtures against Australia, South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand.

Ryan Jones, the Ospreys forward, was handed the captaincy by Gatland on the Kiwi's arrival in 2007, but he has struggled for form over the last two seasons and made his first start of the season against London Irish on Friday.

Jones played at lock, as opposed to his usual position of No 8, in that Heineken Cup clash and he has lost the captaincy at regional level to Alun-Wyn Jones.

And Gatland, who it was announced earlier yesterday has signed a four-year contract extension with the Welsh Rugby Union, will not pick a leader for his side until he names his starting line-up for their opening game against Australia on November 6.

"We will assess form and pick our team and then name the captain, it has to be in that order, but there is little to suggest to us that it will not be Ryan again, he needs a little more game time, but we are more than happy with what he offers in a leadership capacity," Gatland said yesterday.

The Kiwi has been boosted by the return of several experienced players for next month's testing assignments, which he has described as "a tipping point" for his side ahead of next season's World Cup.

Shane Williams, James Hook and Richard Hibbard, the Ospreys trio, and the Cardiff Blues quartet of Gethin Jenkins, Tom Shanklin, Sam Warburton and Martyn Williams are all in the squad having missed the summer tour to New Zealand, although Blues centre Jamie Roberts misses out after undergoing surgery on a wrist injury.

Andy Powell, the Wasps back-row forward, is included after missing that trip through injury, with Dan Lydiate, the Newport Gwent Dragons flanker, also recalled.

There are two new caps in the squad, Scott Andrews, the Cardiff Blues prop, and George North, the 18-year-old Scarlets winger.

Gatland added: "It has been good to see some of our senior players who missed out on the summer tour back and fully fit for their regions. And to be able to select a fully fit Shane Williams, James Hook or Gethin Jenkins is a big lift for us.

"Scott Andrews has been doing well technically, physically he is in good shape. We have had our eye on him at the Blues and he has been in and around the squad for a while.

"George North is only young but really set the start of the season on fire with his form. He is a big physical player, last time I saw a pair of thighs like that was on some of the Samoans back in New Zealand."