Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Jones hails Gatland transformation

Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards wants rugby to retain the focus when his side play Tonga

Ryan Jones believes Wales have "changed beyond all recognition" under the coaching direction of New Zealander Warren Gatland.

Gatland will take charge of his 100th career Test match on Friday night when Wales continue their autumn series by hosting Tonga at the Millennium Stadium.

It will be Gatland's 59th game at the helm of Wales, while he also coached Ireland in 38 Tests and masterminded the British and Irish Lions' 2-1 series triumph against Australia earlier this year.

His Wales reign is highlighted by three RBS 6 Nations titles, two Grand Slams and a 2011 World Cup semi-final appearance.

"His record speaks for itself," said Ospreys back-row forward Jones, who captains a Wales team showing 11 changes from last Saturday's record 40-6 win against Argentina, including a new cap in Newport Gwent Dragons wing Hallam Amos.

"The difference in the environment, the difference in the results - we've changed beyond all recognition from before.

"Warren has done that and he's been incredibly successful. We are judged on results in professional sport and under Warren we have won trophies. It's been a great few years."

Stockport-born Amos, 19, who moved to Wales at the age of four, has gained Test selection barely a week after being called up to the autumn training squad, initially as injury cover.

Amos will slot into the Wales back-three alongside Leigh Halfpenny and George North, who are both retained following the Pumas clash along with prop Rhodri Jones and flanker Justin Tipuric.

Ashley Beck and Cardiff Blues centre Owen Williams will team up as Wales' midfield, while versatile James Hook is handed a chance in the number 10 shirt alongside half-back partner Lloyd Williams.

Six changes in the pack include starts for Bath prop Paul James, Ospreys lock Ian Evans and Dragons flanker Andrew Coombs, but there is also plenty of quality back-up on the bench with the replacements including Lions skipper Sam Warburton and Racing Metro's Dan Lydiate.

Also on the bench, Gatland has drafted in Scarlets back Jordan Williams, where he has familiar company from club colleagues in hooker Emyr Phillips and scrum-half Rhodri Williams.

"They (Tonga) are going to be big, physical, uncompromising. They are going to like to hit targets and stuff," Jones added.

"We haven't played against them for a long, long time. But like I said, no disrespect to them, we have focussed very much on getting our own preparation right, getting our own house in order.

"If we are accurate in everything we do as a collective, the opposition, at times, becomes irrelevant.

"You have to try to impose yourselves. It is about very much carrying on the momentum and the style and manner of how Wales have played in the first two games."

Wales have sometimes struggled in their traditional November Friday night fixture, losing to Samoa last year and drawing with Fiji in 2010, but assistant coach Robin McBryde said: "I think we have learnt our lessons, to be honest.

"I think we have changed the way we've prepared for this game. We've been able to manage the squad a little bit differently with regards to spending a bit more time on the detail a little bit earlier in our preparations.

"We have got to be on our guard. Anyone who saw Tonga's game against France on the weekend knows how much of a threat they can be, especially when they are still in the game.

"So it is a big game for us, an important game, important for individuals and as a squad as well.

"Regarding Hallam, it is just a case of him getting out there and showing what he can do.

"At regional level we have seen glimpses of that. He is a great runner with the ball in hand. No doubt he will be tested, but that's international rugby.

"We saw the same thing last week with regards to Rhodri Jones and Cory Allen coming into the team and benefiting from having experienced individuals around them. I don't expect it to be any different for Hallam.

"Undoubtedly he has got the potential, it is just a case of delivering on Friday night. He has shown up well in training, so we are really looking forward to watching him."

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