Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones believes the trials and tribulations of last year have been the driving force behind Wales’ unbeaten start to the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
Jones and his side won just one of their five matches in the 2020 Championship, and won just three of their ten Test matches throughout the year, as Wayne Pivac got to grips with life in the Welsh hot seat.
But it’s a much different story this time around, with the 2019 Grand Slam winners defeating Ireland, Scotland and England in the first three rounds of the competition to sit top of the table with two matches left to play.
Next up is Italy in a fortnight’s time, and Jones isn’t taking his eye off the ball ahead of the trip to Rome, with everyone focused on getting a fourth straight win when they face the Azzurri at Stadio Olimpico.
“We came into this competition off the back of a disappointing Autumn Nations Cup,” Jones admits.
“Although it was about the strength in depth and giving players an opportunity. We came off a barren bit of form taking one game at a time.
“For us, we had a tough autumn and that critique from within has been pretty harsh at times. It’s paying dividends now with the strength and depth we’d like to think we have in the squad.
“We’re pleased with results but anything after that is going to be muted, we go into the fallow week and sometimes when you win a game you’d like another one straight after to keep momentum going.
“But we’re faced with the challenge of the fallow week and then the big game against Italy as the previous three games have been, but we definitely won’t rely on momentum, it’s what we do and not what we’ve done.
“That critique in-house has to be the driver. If we start looking outside the tent we’ll probably lose focus. I’m proud of the team and the squad that we’ve had to be able to do that.”
Pivac seems to have concocted the perfect blend of youth and experience within the Wales squad, with the seasoned performers like Jones, Jonathan Davies and Ken Owen providing the experience within the dressing room.
Alongside them you have the exuberance of the new kids on the block, with 20-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit getting better game by game, and Kieran Hardy making just his fourth international appearance in the 40-24 victory over England in Round 3.
Hardy capped off a terrific performance at Principality Stadium by helping himself to a try just after the break to put his side into the ascendency, as he caught the England defence napping with a quickly taken penalty before scurrying to the line.
And Jones believes the ability for the newer members of the squad to quickly adapt to their surroundings has helped massively in the past 12 months, leaving Wales to reap the rewards during this year’s Championship.
“It was a baptism of fire in the autumn,” said Jones.
“To see these guys get an opportunity is great and it does go up a notch when you come into the Six Nations, we’re not going to shy away from that. The composure they have has been welcome.
“To have the likes of Jon Davies, Ken Owens back in the mix in those senior roles is great for the squad. We’ve got a lot of younger guys putting their hands up and talking through their actions.
“It’s a good place. We need to keep improving on the pitch and in training.”