RYAN JONES readily admits Wales have been on an emotional rollercoaster during this season’s Six Nations Championship.
It all started with the Ospreys’ 16th player saga that saw Wales full-back Lee Byrne banned, and then cleared, just days before a Twickenham opener against England.
Alun-Wyn Jones’ damaging sin-binning at Twickenham quickly followed – Wales conceded 17 points in his absence – prior to a stunning injury-time victory over Scotland, before Andy Powell’s so-called ‘Buggygate’ misdemeanour hogged the headlines.
And the squad has been offering considerable collective support this week to lock Bradley Davies following the death of his mother Cheryl.
The team, which includes Davies for his first Six Nations start, will wear black armbands and observe a minute’s silence in her memory before facing title favourites France at the Millennium Stadium tonight.
Powell was subsequently dropped by Wales boss Warren Gatland after being charged with drink-driving, while injuries also struck key players, including a British and Irish Lions trio of Alun-Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees.
“We’ve had a rollercoaster of emotions individually and collectively as a squad,” said Wales captain Jones, who leads his country for the 22nd time, a figure bettered only by former wing wizard Ieuan Evans.
“International rugby is quite stressful and uncompromising but everyone knows what is expected of them in this environment. If you let yourself down, you pay the price – you know what is at stake.
“It seems to be the in-thing with footballers at the moment with everything that is going on. There is a media hunger for those indiscretions away from the field.
“You just have to behave. Unfortunately, Andy (Powell) didn’t and he paid the price, but I don’t believe the door is closed for him.
“The stall is set out by Warren and you have to adhere to the rules and regulations and the responsibilities of what this environment entails.”
Wales’ latest appointment with Les Bleus – they have lost four from five at home in the Six Nations against them – marks a watershed moment of their campaign.
Beat France and Wales will head to Dublin in a fortnight’s time with Six Nations silverware still an attainable target. Lose though, and it is potentially mid-table mediocrity at best.
“It’s a huge game for us,” acknowledged Jones, who skippers a side showing five changes from the Scotland thriller, including lock Jonathan Thomas’ switch to blindside flanker instead of Powell.
“They (France) have been nothing short of superb the last two games, so to a man we have got to be on top of our game.”
Meanwhile, France hooker William Servat has warned his team-mates against the danger of underestimating Wales.
“The keyword is concentration again,” he said.
“We have to realise above all that you always have to prepare for a rugby match, that nothing is done in advance and that we practise a sport where if you don’t have all the ingredients you can suddenly be swept aside.
“I’m aware that if we don’t make use of the same ingredients that we had against Ireland, we will lose hugely in Wales.
“The fortune that we have today is that we meet Ireland and England at home. This match against Wales is necessary, there is a big expectation, it will be very fierce and very difficult.”
French coach Marc Lievremont has been forced into changes for the trip to Cardiff, with injury forcing prolific wing Vincent Clerc and indomitable flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo out.
Bayonne’s Benjamin Fall replaced Clerc, but he also had to withdraw from the squad yesterday after suffering an ankle injury in training.
His place is taken by Julien Malzieu of Clermont Auvergne.
Malzieu’s experienced team-mate Julien Bonnaire takes over from Ouedraogo in the back row alongside captain Thierry Dusautoir and number eight Imanol Harinordoquy.
Stade Francais lock Pascal Pape also suffered an ankle injury in training and has been replaced by Bourgoin’s Julien Pierre with former Sale forward Sebastien Chabal coming onto the replacements bench.
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