As a man who won three Grand Slam titles on home soil, Adam Jones expects Wales to repeat the trick in Cardiff on Saturday. His personal record of three from three in Cardiff is a good indicator of what might happen when Ireland visit, but there’s more precedent – with Wales winning the Slam nine times out of ten opportunities at home, with a loss to France in 1988 the sole exception. Jones did it in 2005 under Mike Ruddock, before adding a further two under Warren Gatland in 2008 and 2012.
But, there’s a lingering fear that it might not be all that straightforward this weekend, when Joe Schmidt leads his Ireland side into battle at the Principality Stadium. Since the Kiwi took charge in 2014, Ireland’s record has been superior to Wales – with three titles and one Grand Slam compared to no titles at all – and in only once (2016) did Gatland’s side finish above Ireland in the table.
“Against England, it didn’t look like the Ireland I’ve seen for the last year or so,” Jones said. “This England team looks like a strong, strong team, big and physical, but Ireland didn’t seem to have that mojo. I don’t think they’ll come to Cardiff and out-Wales Wales.
“Schmidt’s an unbelievable coach, he’ll have different tricks up his sleeve. That’s my one worry, how Joe and Faz (Andy Farrell) prepare this team, and how Faz gets his players up to the emotional level to win this game. I still see us winning it, just...”
The last time Ireland went to Wales with both sides in contention for the title, Ronan O’Gara was the hero – kicking a late drop goal to seal a grand slam and deny Wales even a triple crown. But in 2012, when Wales had an 11th Slam on the line, they didn’t slip up against France – even if the build up to the game tested the most experienced of players.
“The last weeks have always been nervous with us,” he said, “looking back to 2012, we were training in the Vale [team hotel] and you could swear it was Abercraf, where I’m from, the Abercraf second team was playing – the ball was dropping, no one could do anything. You could sense the nerves, so we had to bring it in a bit ‘calm the nerves, just do what we do’. There’ll be nerves, some of the boys have never had one [a slam], Josh Adams, Hadleigh Parkes, these guys, so the boys like Alun-Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, George North, Jon Davies, these guys who’ve been involved in them before, they’re the boys who have to lead, keep everyone simmering and ready for the weekend.”
Wales is a small place, Jones jokes, so avoiding the pre-match hype is something that’s easier said than done.
“The three slam deciders I’ve been involved in were all in Cardiff, and this one is again, so you have that comfort blanket, but you kind of have to park yourself away from it all,” he said.
“The Welsh public, the Welsh papers, everything, they get a little bit excited...so you kind of isolate yourself, stay as a team, and you just know come the weekend, something special is going to happen.”
The only way Ireland can enjoy a special weekend is to win in Wales and pray for a Scottish shock in Twickenham – with the former far more likely than the latter. As things stand, Wales are odds on to win the championship and the slam – a role reversal from before the tournament when Schmidt’s men were hot favourites to retain their title.
“I think we haven’t played particularly well either, but we are where we are,” said Jones. Adam Jones was speaking at the Guinness Six Nations media day in Dublin.