Jones: Gatland’s final Championship just ‘business as usual’

Alun Wyn Jones is one of Wales’s greatest captains but he’s never been a man to put individual sentiment above the team.

Alun Wyn Jones is one of Wales’s greatest captains but he’s never been a man to put individual sentiment above the team.

So it should come as no surprise that even as Warren Gatland enters his final Guinness Six Nations as Wales coach, the skipper is urging his side to treat the Championship as business as usual.

Gatland’s first Championship as Wales boss was back in 2008 and he has led them to two Grand Slams during his tenure but will step down after the World Cup this autumn.

The tributes have been pouring in for the 55-year-old and it would be a fitting conclusion if the New Zealander could once again lead his adopted country to glory in the Guinness Six Nations.

Wales open up their campaign with a trip to Paris underneath the Friday night lights, on a nine-game winning streak, but there is no complacency from towering lock Jones – only a single-minded focus on the task in hand.

“Nine [wins] on the bounce is nice but I’m not thinking about that – we want to build on last year,” said the skipper, who finished second in the table with three wins from five last year.

“I don’t want to look too much at records. We know how big the first game is. If you get your foot in the door, you set yourself up well for the following games.

“Games under the Friday night lights are always special. It will be tough out there with the 9pm kick off and we know how well they’re doing – they’ve had a resurgence in performance recently.

“You don’t know what French side will turn up and they can beat anyone but we know as individuals what we can achieve in the red of Wales.

“There’s been a lot of romantic things said about Gats [Warren Gatland] but it’s going to be business as usual when we get down to it.

“The biggest mark of respect is to play well for your coach and that’s what we’ll try and do.”

Gatland led Wales to a Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 and if he is to complete the trifecta, then they’ll need to beat last year’s Grand Slam champions Ireland in Cardiff in Round 5.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is also leaving his role after the World Cup, meaning a potentially fascinating winner-takes-all finale could be on the cards.

There is plenty of rugby to be played before then however and while injuries often have a say on the destination of the Championship crown, Gatland is adamant he has more reliable players to call on than at any other point in his 11-year tenure.

“We’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had before and that’s been a focus for us over the past few years,” said Gatland. “We’re in a better position to cope with injuries than ever before.

“The Guinness Six Nations is always a challenge and you’re always trying to get one over the other coaches as much as the players are.”