Recently by Kumari Tilakawardane
So here we are again, the penultimate round of the Six Nations.
I keep hearing whispered mentions of it, notes passed secretly, even a few smoke signals... The Welsh public are talking about Grand Slams. But it's important not to forget that in order to get to the mythical status of 'Grand Slam Winners 2012' Wales have first to overcome Italy and France.
The Italian team are often billed as the underdogs, the also-rans and occasionally 'an easy game'. This, as many teams have found out in recent years, is categorically not the case. The Azzurri are a formidable unit and will no doubt hurl a few challenges Wales's way this Saturday at the Millennium Stadium.
The Millennium Stadium factor is undoubtedly a massive boost for Wales, and makes home- advantage a bigger advantage for Wales than any other nation. The mark of truly great sides has to be the ability to win home and away (something the Welsh team have done with aplomb of late) and while Italy are maybe not all the way there currently, they are certainly on the cusp of making it. In other fixtures home-advantage can sometimes count for nothing and be turned on its head; games between Italy and Wales show how important that home crowd's support can be. In the first Six Nations meeting between the two sides in Cardiff, Wales triumphed 47-16. The following year the Italians lost by only 10 points. In 2002 Wales beat the Azzurri with a 24 point margin; in 2003 Italy were the victors by 30-22. Wales are rightly favourites to beat Italy this year: given their current form and stock of players they arguably should be favourites for every game in this tournament. But it's not in the Welsh psyche to get complacent... is it?
I'm particularly excited to see the magnificent Sergio Parisse do battle with Toby Faletau, the Welsh rising star. Two of the best No 8s in world rugby at the moment, these two should promise some eye-catching breaks and strong drives to name just 2 of their seemingly infinite skills. On paper Parisse's experience and undisputed classiness would look to give him the edge over Faletau, although with the Welsh pack as dominant and on-form as it is I wouldn't be willing to put any money on it.
The Italians are known for their brutal forward-pack and this has been virtually their main weapon thus far in the tournament. The Italian backs haven't been able to match the front 8, whereas the Welsh backs have, without exception, been excellent. Yes, perhaps Jamie Roberts had a quiet game against Scotland. Okay, Leigh Halfpenny wasn't as potent in the third game as he was in the second. The important thing about Wales is they have an unbelievable amount of quality strength in depth. It's impossible to displace either of the incumbent centres, but Scott Williams certainly did a hell of a job trying. Lloyd Williams and Rhys Webb are two top quality scrum halves, kept out of the first XV and off the bench respectively by some barn-storming form from Mike Phillips that has stayed strong since the World Cup. When Matthew Rees found himself injured prior to the start of the tournament Welsh hearts sank. That was nothing however, compared to how much they sank when his more than capable replacement Huw Bennett also did himself a mischief. But lo and behold, Rees's understudy at the Scarlets Ken Owens stepped up and had a great performance in the most difficult of games - England v Wales. It's difficult to find a position where Wales are lacking cover; selection headaches of this nature must be a wonderful problem for Gatland et al.
Despite all this, I still think it's much too early to be uttering those 2 words. To my mind, for the next day and a half at least, they're swear words. Don't get me wrong, I'm not superstitious. But I'll be crossing every finger, clutching my rabbit's foot and praying to anything I can think of come game day.
What a game. What a try. What a feeling. Cymru am byth!
*More to follow tomorrow after the celebrations..*
Popular opinion is Scotland threw away their Calcutta Cup game last weekend, and will no doubt be looking to improve their performance this time around. Conversely plaudits rained in from all sides for a dogged Welsh performance that earned a win on the road in Dublin on Sunday. Here's how the teams line up:
Gethin Jenkins v Geoff Cross
Jenkins returns to the Welsh front row after being side-lined by injury. Whether or not this quick return will be too soon remains to be seen, but there's no rugby fan who can deny Jenkins is one of the best props in the world. His agility and quick-thinking should cause problems for a Scotland pack who at times looked disorganised last time out. Cross comes in as a replacement for Euan Murray who withdrew from the game for religious reasons. Scotland will be hoping Cross can emulate some of the strong form he's shown for Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup this season; the Scottish scrum will need to front up and improve from last week to compete with Wales.
Huw Bennett v Ross Ford
Ford was one of the stand-out performers for Scotland against England. His accuracy at the line out is something Bennett and co. can aspire to. Bennett is a ferocious competitor in the loose and is a valuable asset to the Welsh defensive line but the line out is an area which has plagued Wales for years. Against Ford and the likes of Gray and Denton Bennett will need to be more accurate with his jumpers to gain any parity from these set pieces.
Adam Jones v Allan Jacobsen
Jones is established as one of the best front-rowers in the world and will be fancied as favourite against a Scottish scrum that could not impose itself effectively on England. Jones is always a threat with ball in hand and at breakdowns as well and will no doubt fancy taking on the likes of Jacobsen in the loose. Jacobsen was a physical presence throughout general play last week, but the Scottish scrum was not as imposing as he might have hoped, and his indiscipline at times cost Scotland valuable yards. Like most of the Scottish backs, Jacobsen will need to eliminate silly errors to threaten Wales.
Ryan Jones v Jim Hamilton
Jones moves to lock due to the inclusion of Dan Lydiate in the Welsh side. A somewhat unknown position at international level for him, Jones should get more opportunities to pick-and-drive from this position. Jones will have his work cut out dealing with the physically imposing Hamilton, who made a break that set up one of Scotland's many chances last weekend. He faded throughout the game, a fact which could vindicate the gruelling fitness camps at Gdansk for Wales; Jones was an ever-present workhorse against Ireland last week. His almost-try (was it or wasn't it?) epitomised the improvement Jones has seen during this season, reminiscent of his headline-grabbing Six Nations debut back in 2005.
Ian Evans v Richie Gray
Evans was a solid figure against the dynamic Irish pack last weekend and deserves his place in the first XV. He's mounted a successful comeback after many injuries and looks to be improving with every international game. Gray is surely one of the most impressive of the Scottish players; his great World Cup form seems to have carried on to the Six Nations. Gray was an ever-present in the Scottish line out last week and his tackling work is second to none. The athletic lock will be a threat both in the loose and at the set piece for Scotland.
Dan Lydiate v Ross Rennie
Rennie was at fault as much as any of the Scots for throwing away chances last Saturday at Murrayfield and will need to cut the errors out of his game if Scotland are to compete. The return of Lydiate should bolster Wales immensely, particularly at the breakdown where Lydiate is at his world-class best. What Lydiate offers in attack arguably Rennie offers more in attack, and if the Scottish pack can make some of their chances stick Lydiate will need to put in a few trademark tackle-jackles to stop them.
Sam Warburton v Alasdair Strokosch
Strokosch was one of the players guilty of slaughtering a try-scoring chance last week after putting an offload from Gray to the ground with the line practically at his mercy. He will need to be more clinical in the loose if he is to make a positive impact. However, Strokosch was impressive both at the breakdowns and in set-piece play against England and should help bolster Scotland's impressive line-out. Warburton's performances are often impossible to describe without using multiple superlatives, and his game goes from strength to strength with every game. A dead-leg in the Ireland game has luckily been cured and Warburton will look to lead the Welsh team into a no-doubt physical battle from the front.
Toby Faletau v David Denton
A mouth-watering battle of two of the most exciting back-row players in the championship. Faletau has been a sensation for Wales since his hugely impressive performances in New Zealand last year; Denton seemed at times to be a one-man team against the English last weekend at Murrayfield. Which of these two will emerge victorious is a difficult question to address, as there are so many outside factors to consider: the respective performances of the front-fives, the quality of ball at the breakdowns and essentially the type of game that unravels. With the abrasive defensive back three Wales have at the moment it's hard to envisage Denton being given the space to break he was presented with last week, especially with the imposing figure of Faletau opposing him.
Mike Phillips v Chris Cusiter
Man of the Match last week, Phillips has come into his own in the last few months; seeing off any potential competition for the 9 shirt from Lloyd Williams, Tavis Knoyle and Rhys Webb. Phillips's imposing physical presence serves Wales well at the breakdown and should set up an interesting contest between him and Cusiter, who supplied the wasteful Scottish backs with quick and accurate ball last weekend. Whichever scrum half is functioning behind the dominant pack should in theory come out on top, but Cusiter will need to be alert to some of Phillips's signature dummy-breaks to stop Wales advancing.
Rhys Priestland v Greig Laidlaw
All the talk in the lead up to this game has been about the surprise retirement of Dan Parks, and no doubt Parks will be a buzz-word throughout the commentary of the match. As great a servant as Parks was, Laidlaw's introduction in last week's game provided Scotland with a new impetus and his promotion to first-choice 10 can only be a good thing for the Scots. His opposite number Priestland had a mixed bag of fortunes last weekend in his first game back after injury, but is sure to improve this week and be back to his level-headed best controlling the game. If the kicking duties are handed to Leigh Halfpenny Priestland's open play should reap the rewards.
George North v Lee Jones
George North's superstar status was born last weekend in a barn-storming performance against Ireland. There are those who are claiming his ferocious hand-off on Fergus McFadden at the Aviva Stadium is the new Gavin Henson on Mathew Tait or Jonah Lomu (literally) on the England backline in the '95 World Cup. I think a few more performances of the like from North will cement his status as one of the most exciting wingers the rugby world has seen, but Welsh fans can't afford to get complacent just yet. Jones had a less than memorable debut for his country last weekend against England and will be hoping to make a better impression for his second cap. The Edinburgh wing has been in fine form in the domestic season and if some of those passes stick the Scottish backs could pose a threat. North's defensive game has improved exponentially since his debut and it will take some impressive running rugby from the Scots to get the better of him.
Jamie Roberts v Sean Lamont
Probably as close as any Welsh-Scottish match-up is going to get in the backs; Lamont is at times head-and-shoulders above most of his compatriots and is likely to be one of the biggest threats Wales will have to deal with in the backline, particularly if he combines with Max Evans. Lamont will be well-known to most of the Welsh backline from his time at the Scarlets which could benefit Wales defensively. Roberts had a typically solid performance versus Ireland but as the tournament progresses is sure to be targeted by defences as the player to stop, and could be marked out of games. His strength, speed and line-breaking attributes are essential to Wales's advancement, but against Lamont it could be his staunch defence that is the most important.
Jonathan Davies v Nick De Luca
With a brace of tries against Ireland and too many line breaks to count Davies was the darling of many a fantasy rugby manager this week. Wales's centre pairing is proving to be one of the most potent and strong Welsh rugby has seen and Davies is knocking loudly on the door for a Lions call-up with an all-round game that is hard to criticise. De Luca had a somewhat torrid time at Murrayfield with several crucial knock-ons and silly handling errors that shouldn't be happening at international level. Not the sole culprit of poor handling of course, but as one of the senior Scottish backs De Luca will need to rectify his mistakes this week to avoid another embarrassing performance. In my opinion Davies and Roberts is as close to perfection as a centre partnership can get.
Alex Cuthbert v Max Evans
Arguably Evans had the more impressive performance in Round 1 of the two wingers facing each other here. Cuthbert started his first international and played only the first half after a head injury. Overall a decent performance, he used his size and strength well and made some telling breaks; defensively he left a little to be desired against Ireland, although unless Scotland co-ordinate themselves better this time around that shouldn't be a problem. Evans looked the most likely to score a long-awaited try for Scotland last weekend, and made some scything runs from his own half. Cuthbert will need to be on his toes in defence to halt any progress Evans might make. Conversely, Cuthbert looks to have an advantage over Evans with his size, which should in theory lead to some progress for Wales.
Leigh Halfpenny v Rory Lamont
Lamont was largely anonymous against England last week; his attempts to attack from the deep full-back position caused little to no trouble for the English defenders. Halfpenny has been thrust into the limelight thanks to his last-gasp kick to seal victory for Wales in the first round of matches, and will likely be centre of attention again. Wales may utilise Halfpenny's speed and footwork against a sometimes dithering Scottish defence, Halfpenny acting as a foil to the otherwise physically huge Welsh backline. If Neil Jenkins and Warren Gatland indeed leave Halfpenny with the kicking duties for Wales Halfpenny could have another vital role to play from the tee.
It's difficult to remember a game against Ireland that didn't cause a communal increase in heart-rates across Wales. These are always nail-biting affairs, and frequently too close to call. This year's match is no exception. Wales beat Ireland in the World Cup quarter final but since then have lost several key players through injury and retirement; Ireland were shown to be second best to Wales in that game and have been criticised by some in the media for selecting a very familiar looking squad, but have three club sides in the last 8 of the Heineken Cup and are thriving in the PRO12 league.
Weather will play a key factor in the opening clash for the two sides in this tournament; it is also more than likely to come down to the respective prowess of the kickers.
So which are the key head-to-head clashes in the starting lineups? Ireland's forward pack look to be slightly stronger at first glance, particularly given their continuity of players and dominance at regional level. Wales arguably seem to have the edge in the backs, with a physically dominant midfield and wing contingent combined with pace, strong kickers and the odd sidestep thrown in.
Cian Healy v Adam Jones
Healy, a part-time DJ and Jones, the so-called 'Prop Idol' and one half of the Hair Bears will go into battle in what is shaping up to be a fascinating scrummage battle. Jones is widely lauded as one of the world's best scrummaging props, but may be considered by some marginal underdog versus Healy, part of the massively impressive Leinster pack that have performed brilliantly in both the Heineken Cup and the PRO12 thus far this season. With Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees out with injuries Jones will be expected to lead the scrum with his experience. Welsh fans will be expecting a performance in perfect pitch from Jones to drive the Welsh scrum forward.
Rory Best v Huw Bennett
Bennett, called in as a result of injury to Matthew Rees, is a more than worthy replacement. Bennett provides a solid base in the scrum and his play in the loose complements the playing style Gatland has implemented perfectly. The only potential issue could prove to be the lineout, an aspect of the game which has not been Wales' strong suit in recent times. Contrasted to Best and his lineout forwards (I'm talking O'Connell and O'Callaghan primarily) this may be one area in which Ireland have a definite advantage. Hopefully all the throws and jumps will go smoothly for Wales, as they will need as much quick ball as they can get.
Mike Ross v Rhys Gill
Gill was one of the more surprising calls in the Welsh XV. The selection is definitely deserved following some stand-out performances in a stellar Saracens forward pack. The favourite for replacing the injured Gethin Jenkins in this position was Paul James, who has been in and around the Welsh XV for the last few years. Nonetheless, the mobile Gill could be just the antidote Wales need to halt the Irish front-row, who on paper at least look a formidable outfit. Emphasising Leinster's dominance at regional level, Ross makes it 2 out of three for the Dublin team in the front row. Ross has proven himself both in Ireland with Munster and Leinster and in England with Harlequins. Wales will need to stop any potential charges from him early on.
Donncha O'Callaghan v Ian Evans
O'Callaghan has been selected for the British and Irish Lions twice, is a two-time winner of the Heineken Cup with Munster, and has been part of a Celtic league champion side twice in recent years. This kind of experience is not enjoyed by Wales in the second row for Sundays match, with injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris meaning Osprey Evans receives a starting jersey for the game. Evans has been plagued by injury himself during his career, first making his Wales debut in 2006 and garnering merely 17 caps since then. Evans is a hugely talented lock (quite literally, standing at 6 ft 8") and should compete with O'Callaghan in every facet of the game. His lack of experience could tell in the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium, but determination to stake a claim for a permanent starting position should spur Evans on.
Paul O'Connell (c) v Bradley Davies
O'Connell is something of a cult figure in Ireland, and to my mind at least seems to have been a permanent fixture in the Irish side forever. Davies himself has been involved at international level for Wales in 32 matches and is one of the names certain to be called out come squad selection day. The second row is an area of immense strength for Ireland, and with Wales' first-choice pairing out injured, Davies will need to put up a near-perfect performance to keep a handle on the breakdown skills of O'Connell. Master of the lineout, O'Connell is regarded as one of the best back-5 forwards in the northern hemisphere. Davies will need to recapture last year's form with some trademark tackles, steals and gainline breaks to make his mark.
Stephen Ferris v Ryan Jones
On paper, Ireland's back-row looks to be nigh-on perfect. Ferris's form is pretty much constant, and has inspired his club side Ulster this season to some barn-storming wins over Leicester and Clermont Auvergne: two of the most ferocious and talented packs in the world. Jones himself is a well-established international back-row player and has been immensely useful for Wales since his debut in 2004 due to his ability to play lock, flanker and no 8. I think this match-up is one of the most interesting, as the two players are comparable in so many ways; so much so that Jones was called up to the Lions squad as a like-for-like replacement for Ferris in 2009. Ireland will expect to have dominance in the battle of the back-rows, but with the experience and leadership of Jones, Wales stand a chance of spoiling their party. The loss of Dan Lydiate from the blindside flank is huge for Wales defensively, but arguably Jones offers a different set of skills which should enhance Wales' attacking play.
Sean O'Brien v Sam Warburton (c)
O'Brien is one of the outstanding back-row forwards in world rugby currently; a fact which has been reflected in the numerous accolades awarded to him as a result of an outstanding 2010-11 season both for Leinster and Ireland. Of course, his adversary on Sunday is no stranger to praise himself. Warburton has been hailed the world over as the future of professional rugby, not only for his impeccable comportment off the field, but for his outstanding play at flanker for Wales. Defensively, Warburton is one of the most important players for Wales; epitomised by his brilliant performance against South Africa's jackler-in-chief Heinrich Brussow in the World Cup. Despite the formidable reputation of O'Brien, Warburton has to be favourite to come out on top of this battle and will lead from the front in his role as captain.
Jamie Heaslip v Toby Faletau
One of the most exciting match-ups not only of this match, but of the Six Nations as a whole. Heaslip is one of Leinster Rugby's star players, and can often be found scoring tries from long range dispatching a few would-be tacklers on the way. There is no better option for Wales to face Heaslip than the young Faletau - who has more than lived up to all the media hype surrounding his performances. Welsh back-row veteran this week claimed Faletau has 'the lot', and praise has come from all corners of the rugby world for the explosive Dragon. Deceptively quick and strong, Faletau's pick-ups from the base of the scrum could prove crucial against a strong Irish pack, and his pace might just give him the edge over the impressive Heaslip.
Conor Murray v Mike Phillips
Potentially the most fiery match-up of the lot. Many pundits have labelled Murray 'a young Mike Phillips' and the clash of these two extremely physical scrum-halves should provide a fascinating battle. Phillips is coming off the back of a hugely impressive World Cup campaign that arguably cemented his first XV place and a big money move to France. Murray is one of the many Munstermen in the Ireland squad, who have just completed a terrific run in the Heineken Cup, finishing top seeds. Whether this will prove a help or a hindrance remains to be seen over the course of the tournament.
Jonathan Sexton v Rhys Priestland
Sexton and Priestland are two of the most celebrated young stand-offs in world rugby. Priestland's late confirmation for the game will have provided relief for all Welsh fans, and likely inspired a little worry in the hearts of Irish fans. Priestland's consummate performance in the World Cup caught the world's attention; his calm control of the backline and on-field vision has been cited as one of the main reasons for Wales' success of late. Welsh fans will be hoping Sexton's Heineken Cup final heroics of 2011 will not show themselves come Sunday. Ireland v Wales is historically a nail-biter, games that often hinge on one mistake or one moment of brilliance. Sexton and Priestland will likely prove pivotal in this respect; Welsh fans may be pleased not to see O'Gara's name on the team sheet given his penchant for dropping goals. Priestland's goal-kicking form has been inconsistent at times, and could have an adverse effect on the rest of his stand-off play; Gatland could give the place-kicking duties to Priestland to allow Priestland to focus on running the game as he does best.
Gordon D'Arcy v Jamie Roberts
If Ireland's back-row looks strong on paper, it's nothing compared to Wales' backline. And not just on paper. There will be those that argue that the pairing of Roberts and Davies is the brawn to Ireland's brains in midfield. But any Welsh fan, or indeed any rugby fan who watched Wales at the World Cup knows that Roberts and Davies offer much more than raw strength. Rumours that Roberts would not be passed fit for this match were understandably terrifying for Welsh fans, as Roberts supplies the impetus for the backline moves Wales has become known for. Roberts's line breaks are some of the most powerful and explosive in international rugby, and he is rightly thought of as one of the most valuable centres in world rugby. Roberts combines strength and skill with experience, which should prove too much for D'Arcy to deal with in midfield.
Fergus McFadden v Jonathan Davies
McFadden replaces Earls, who pulled out of the game due to family reasons. Arguably this change could benefit Ireland, as McFadden provides a more physical presence in midfield to partner the jinking D'Arcy. The pairing of D'Arcy and Earls was seen by some to be defensively suspect against the strong backline Wales are starting with. McFadden has put in some strong defensive performances this season in a Leinster side that has a points +/- difference of a staggering 128 in the PRO12. His lack of international experience could provide the gap Davies needs to implement a gain-line break, something which has become his signature move for the Scarlets of late. His deceptive pace and powerhouse runs should prove a lot to handle for McFadden, and should give Wales an edge, particularly if they receive quick lineout ball.
Andrew Trimble v George North
Trimble was once the wunderkind of Irish rugby, much as North is for Wales currently. Despite losing favour in the international XV over the last few years, Trimble's eye-catching performances for European quarter-finalists Ulster have warranted his inclusion in Declan Kidney's backline. North has been steadily improving since his memorable international debut in 2010. His combination of impressive physical stature and deceptive speed has been compared to that of the legendary Jonah Lomu, and Gatland and co will no doubt be hoping for some Lomu-esque charges up the Irish touchline come Sunday.
Tommy Bowe v Alex Cuthbert
Bowe is well-known to Welsh fans from his role at the Ospreys, potentially more well-known even than Cuthbert, who is a fairly new addition to the Blues side. With Shane Williams' retirement there was a winger position going spare and Cuthbert's try-scoring heroics for the Blues in Europe have earned him the spot. Cuthbert is a back in the mould of Roberts, Davies and North; his selection ahead of the more fleet-footed Liam Williams of the Scarlets could betray a plan by the Welsh management to challenge Ireland to a physical game. Cuthbert made his mark as a sevens player, and it is this combination of strength and speed that could see him edge the advantage over Bowe. Cuthbert's inexperience (he made his Welsh debut as a replacement for North in December 2011) has been cited by some as a cause for concern in the oft-tense fixture of Ireland v Wales; to those people I have two words: George North.
Rob Kearney v Leigh Halfpenny
A lot will be made of Halfpenny's small stature compared to his team-mates; Halfpenny steps right into the 'small but deadly' role left vacant by the retirement of Shane Williams. His accurate goal-kicking is a huge asset for Wales, and could see him take the mantle of first-choice goal-kicker for Wales, particularly given the injury concerns surrounding Priestland. Kearney will no doubt be a near constant threat to the Welsh defensive line and Halfpenny will need to be vigilant to stop Kearney getting a run-in at the Welsh try line.
Stephen Jones's late call up to the squad cannot really be labelled a shock. Let's review here: the man has 104 caps for Wales, has made 307 appearances for the Scarlets alone and currently lies second in the all-time points table for Europe's premier club competition the Heineken Cup. Experience like that is invaluable, and his inclusion now only makes his omission last week all the more baffling.
I noted at the time of the Welsh training squad's announcement that there was surprisingly little cover options at stand-off; and lo and behold the incumbent 10 Rhys Priestland limped off the field in the final Heineken pool game of the season with what looks to be a reasonably serious knee injury. That leaves James Hook and Gavin Henson as the only clear options at fly-half... if you can call them that.
Hook, a vastly talented player renowned the world over is not by a long shot a consistent starter in the Wales first XV. Perhaps cursed by his plethora of talents on the field, the former Osprey has been shunted from 10, to 12, to 15 without being able to nail down any one position. The label of 'utility player' has been more of a hinderance than a help to him, as it has turned out with fellow Welshman Jonathan Thomas in recent times.
Henson... is there much to say that hasn't already been said? Everyone has their own opinion about whether his inclusion in the preliminary squad was justified. I myself think he is a hugely talented player, but 3 games for the Blues in two different positions for me isn't enough justification for inclusion in the national set-up. He's been out of rugby, let alone Welsh rugby, for quite awhile and thrusting him back in after only a few months is a very risky gamble.
That said, the Gatland-era hasn't exactly been gamble and risk-free. Many argued the selection (albeit last-minute) of Priestland at fly-half in the summer was a risk; he ended up being lauded as one of the best 10s in the tournament and a major player to watch out for in years to come. Gambling on either Hook or Henson at fly-half could turn out to be a masterstroke. But the fact remains, neither have really proven themselves internationally in this position, and arguably both function much better at first-receiver, operating inside a consistent fly-half.
With the injury toll mounting, it looks as though Wales could make the trip over to Ireland missing a third of their team; Priestland, Dan Lydiate and Gethin Jenkins all suffered injuries last weekend and preferred second row partnership Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris are both still carrying injuries. So many frontline players missing in a tough tournament like the Six Nations surely calls for a calm head and experience - no one epitomises these qualities quite like Stephen Jones.
It may be Superstitious, but I've always thought Jones has to be included, precisely for times like these. And For Once In My Life, it looks like I may be right..