World should applaud Wales skipper Jones, says Gatland

Coach says his team's leader, who is closing in on caps record, is 'maturing like a fine wine'.

TOYOTA, 21 Sep - Wales head coach Warren Gatland (NZL) says Alun Wyn Jones is "maturing like a fine wine", with his captain poised to equal the record for most caps for his country in their opening Pool D game against Georgia on Monday.

The lock, 34 this month, will win his 129th cap at the City of Toyota Stadium. That will put him alongside former prop Gethin Jenkins and, all going well, he will become Wales’ most capped player in their next match against Australia on Sunday, 29 September.

"He has been absolutely outstanding in his services to Welsh rugby," said Gatland. "He's got better with age, he is like a good wine."

"Hopefully, he comes out of Monday night’s game fit and available and, if selected, as he always says, against Australia, he will get that chance to break that Welsh record.

"He doesn’t like me talking about these things, but he deserves all the accolades. He has been just such a great servant to Welsh rugby and the pleasing thing, for me, in the last couple of years, is that recognition hasn’t been just from Wales, it has been worldwide, too.

"People have realised what a contribution he has given to world rugby in terms of his performances and leadership. That’s pleasing to see, that  someone from Wales is recognised as one of the best players in the world in his position."

Gatland is wary of Georgia's scrummage as he launches his final RWC in charge and has named a strong line-up to counter that threat.

"With Georgia, we know how strong they are up front and their scrum is a weapon. We’ve got to be competent at scrum time," he said.

"The boys had a good training session this morning. We’re really excited - we can’t wait for Monday night."

Aaron Wainwright, tipped as one of the players of the tournament, had been chosen ahead of the more experienced Ross Moriarty at flanker as he continues his rapid rise with a World Cup bow just a few years after switching from football.

"Aaron's just continued to improve. He’s incredibly athletic and an intelligent rugby player," said Gatland. "He’s very inexperienced still, but I think there’s only an upward curve for him.” 

"I don’t think people realise how quick he is and how explosive he is. Since his first cap 12 months ago, he’s just gone from strength to strength.

"There’s some real competition in the back-row and that’s the way we want it."

Wainwright will be joined in the back-row by Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, while Wyn Jones has been selected ahead of Nicky Smith at loose-head.

Skipper Jones, pictured above, will be joined in the second-row by Jake Ball, with Adam Beard having only arrived on Saturday morning after an appendix operation.

Gatland said Beard will be given time to regain match fitness and is unlikely to figure in the game against Australia at Tokyo Stadium.

RNS ig/mj/bo