Jones backs depleted Wales in All Blacks Test
SPOTLIGHT: Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said he backed his squad to perform against New Zealand this weekend despite being shorn of a host of first-choice players.
With Saturday’s game in Cardiff being held outside of World Rugby’s Test window, the hosts will be without the likes of flyhalf Dan Biggar, wing Louis Rees-Zammitt and No.8 Taulupe Faletau as they ply their trade for clubs in England.
Premiership sides are not obliged to release their players for the game and head coach Wayne Pivac also has injury concerns over utility back Liam Williams and flank Ellis Jenkins.
“It’s outside the window so it’s probably a question for someone who’s higher up the tree than myself,” lock Jones told a press conference.
“When you get the opportunity to pull the red jersey on, you’ll take it.
“It’s an opportunity for guys to put their hands up and there’s probably no bigger game to do it than the one we’ve got,” he added.
With Northampton Saints’ Biggar as well as Bristol Bears’ flyhalf Callum Sheedy unavailable to face the All Blacks, Pivac has the choice between Gareth Anscombe or Rhys Priestland for the No.10 shirt.
The Ospreys’ Anscombe, who starred for New Zealand’s Under-20s alongside Beauden Barrett, last played a Test in August 2019 after suffering a serious knee injury in a loss to England.
Former Bath playmaker Priestland, who turns 35 in January, last featured for his country in 2017 as he was a victim of the Welsh Rugby Union’s rule on blocking foreign-based players with 60 caps or less from representing the national team.
“Credit to both guys who have been here in the jersey and obviously had a spell out for different reasons and gone the long way round,” the world’s most-capped player Jones said.
“To see them back in the fold is great. To have players of that quality vying for position can only bode well,” he added.
Meanwhile, Willis Halaholo was withdrawn from the squad after testing positive for Covid-19 with the Scarlets’ Scott Williams replacing the Cardiff centre.
“Been a rough 24 hours. Found out my aunty [pretty much a 2nd mum to me] passed away late last night,” Auckland-born Halaholo said on Twitter.
“Then wake up this morning and test positive and be unavailable for a game that I’ve worked hard towards since it was announced. Gutted. Congrats @ScottWilliams_1 Goodluck brothers.”