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Warren Gatland compares Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones to ‘good wine’
Wales boss pays tribute to 34-year-old skipper as he equals Gethin Jenkins’ cap record.
Wales boss Warren Gatland says that skipper Alun Wyn Jones is a player that “deserves all the accolades” as he prepares to equal his country’s cap record.
Jones will make a 129th Wales appearance in Monday’s World Cup opener against Georgia, matching prop Gethin Jenkins’ achievement.
“He has been absolutely outstanding,” Gatland said of the 34-year-old. “He has got better with age – he’s like a good wine.
“He deserves all the accolades. He has been a great servant to Welsh rugby. The pleasing thing for me is that recognition hasn’t just been in Wales. It has been worldwide.
“People realise just what a contribution he has made to world rugby, both in his performances and leadership. It’s pleasing to see someone from Wales recognised as one of the best players in his position.”
Flanker Aaron Wainwright will make his World Cup debut against Georgia, lining up in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, with Ross Moriarty among the replacements.
Gatland has chosen a starting line-up packed with star names as the Six Nations champions target a flying start.
Jones is joined by fellow British and Irish Lions Test players in Tipuric, full-back Liam Williams, wing George North, centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens.
Elsewhere, there is a start for Scarlets prop Wyn Jones, and Jake Ball is Alun Wyn Jones’ second-row partner with Aaron Shingler providing lock cover among the replacements.
On 21-year-old Wainwright’s selection, Gatland added: “He’s incredibly athletic and an intelligent rugby player. He’s very inexperienced still, but I think there is only an upward curve for him as a player.
“I don’t think people realise how quick he is and how explosive he is. Since his first cap 12 months or so ago, he has just gone from strength to strength.
“There’s some real competition in the back-row, and that’s the way we want it. We feel there’s a nice balance.”
Lock Adam Beard, meanwhile, has joined the Wales squad in Japan after remaining at home last week to have his appendix removed.
Beard’s fellow second-row forward Cory Hill, who has been sidelined due to a stress fracture in his leg, remains on course for the Australia match.
“He (Beard) is going to do some light stuff over the next few days,” Gatland said. “I don’t think he’s going to be in contention for selection next week.
“The plan is to get him up and running as quickly as we possibly can. He’s lost a bit of weight, so we need to get some weight back on him, get him eating properly again.
“He’s done a lot of training and conditioning over the last three months, so it will probably take a week to get him up to speed again.
“Cory Hill did some scrums today and some running. The plan is to have him available for selection for next week. He’s making a lot of progress.”
Wales go into the Georgia game after assistant coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan earlier this week for an alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations.
Howley, 48, has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation relating to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation six, specifically betting on rugby union.
Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones has replaced Howley and was involved in his first training session on Saturday.
“Yesterday, we had a day off, and he (Jones) spent all day in the team room looking at game footage, going through training and the calls and everything,” Gatland added.
“He has fitted in well, and it has been easy because he has been in this environment as a player. He knows so many of the players as well.”