Six Nations 2015: Paul O’Connell is ultimate team player, says Jones

Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones hails Ireland talisman ahead of crucial match between the two countries in Cardiff next weekend

Alun Wyn Jones has hailed Ireland captain Paul O’Connell as the ultimate team player ahead of the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions’ visit to Cardiff next Saturday.

The Ospreys and Wales lock will go directly up against his former British and Irish Lions second row colleague (pictured above) hoping to avenge their 2013 defeat when Ireland last visited the Welsh capital.

He speaks when when he needs to, and what he says is not for the sake of it, but has meaning. He is one of the few guys able to back that up with performances, and he has a CV that speaks for itself.

Alun Wyn Jones on Ireland captain Paul O’Connell

With O’Connell helping to steer Ireland to a 19-9 victory over England at the Aviva Stadium seven days ago, the Millennium Stadium clash between Wales and Ireland is being talked up as the latest championship decider.

An Ireland win will see Joe Schmidt’s men become odds-on favourites to retain their crown, and become the first country to lift the new Six Nations trophy, with their final game coming against an out of sorts Scotland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 21 March, with Triple Crown and Grand Slam glory awaiting them for the first time since 2009.

On what will be a special day for O’Connell as he reaches a landmark 100 appearances in the famous green jersey, Jones is all too aware of how influential the Munster man can be on the field for his country.

“You associate words like icon and talisman with him,” Jones said.

“He is the ultimate team player.

“I remember a quote of his a while back that puts the role of a forward, particularly a tight-five forward, into the right perception for anyone – ‘it is a job you do to make other people look good’ – and he has been doing that for Ireland since he has had the jersey.

“It highlights his drive and determination for the team, which is more than any individual feat.

“He would definitely be up there as one of the top players in the northern hemisphere during the time I have been playing the game.

“I have played alongside him a few times in some pretty big games. He is all for the team.

“He speaks when when he needs to, and what he says is not for the sake of it, but has meaning.

“He is one of the few guys able to back that up with performances, and he has a CV that speaks for itself.”

After losing their opening round match to England in Cardiff, Wales have impressed with back-to-back wins over Scotland and France on the road, and a win for Jones and his colleagues would give them a chance of snatching back the title they held in 2012 and 2013 when they go to Rome to take on Italy in their final game.

Jones, 29, has been one of the tournament’s stand-out players, picking up the man of the match award in Wales’ 26-23 win over Scotland, and was a contender for it in Paris after another barnstorming shift from the engine room.

If the British and Irish Lions were touring New Zealand this summer, rather than 2017, Jones would be a shoo-in with O’Connell as the first two locks selected based on their considerable experience, work rate and influence in northern hemisphere rugby.

I wear my stripes on my sleeve, and I am not afraid to show them…I am able to harness it now and employ it in the way it counts, which is in the 80 minutes we have at the weekend.

Alun Wyn Jones

While Jones has a chance of being one of the elder statesmen on that tour in two years’ time, another tour seems unlikely for 35-year-old O’Connell, who has already dropped retirement hints following the Rugby World Cup later this year.

O’Connell is far from done, however, as his leadership on the field has shown in Ireland’s 10-game unbeaten run going into the fourth match of this year’s Six Nations.

Ireland said farewell to Brian O’Driscoll in style almost 12 months ago by winning the Six Nations, and few would back against the same fate befalling O’Connell in the coming weeks with the green machine having lost just twice in Cardiff since 1983.

But much like a side featuring O’Connell, a Wales side powered by Jones will not roll over easily, and will not stop trying to better themselves.

Part of that may be down to strong characters being bad losers, so it will be an almighty 80-minute battle when the two veterans take to the field on Saturday afternoon.

“There are always bits to work on,” Jones added.

“We are pretty level-headed and will continue to work. We know where we need to be, moving forward.

“We are trying to be level-headed and realistic and continuing to improve.

“You have to be competitive in the job I am in.

“I wear my stripes on my sleeve, and I am not afraid to show them.

“In the past, I have probably been misguided at times on the training park, but I am able to harness it now and employ it in the way it counts, which is in the 80 minutes we have at the weekend.”

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