Will Rowlands: Loss of Alun Wyn Jones leaves Wales with ‘big shoes to fill’

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Will Rowlands acknowledges that Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones’ injury absence leaves “big shoes to fill” for the reigning Six Nations champions.

Jones, who has won 149 Wales caps during a 15-year Test career, faces shoulder surgery and looks unlikely to play again until much later this season.

Wales have remaining Autumn Nations Series games against South Africa, Fiji and Australia this month, followed by a Six Nations campaign that Jones seems set to miss in its entirety.

Wales v Scotland – Guinness Six Nations – Parc y Scarlets
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who is sidelined due to injury (David Davies/PA)

With the 36-year-old absent, ex-Wasps forward Rowlands steps into the second-row vacancy alongside Adam Beard for world champions South Africa’s Principality Stadium visit on Saturday.

“I don’t see it as trying to fill those shoes – obviously, big shoes to fill,” Rowlands said.

“I think some of the things he brings to the side are leadership and experience, but also a lot of physicality in how he plays the game.

“And that is something I like to think I can bring to the team, so I will just try to do that on the weekend.

“In terms of leadership, there are plenty of experienced guys who can take that mantle from him. Jonathan Davies is taking up the captaincy, and he did a great job for us doing that in the summer.”

Rowlands will win his 12th cap this weekend, and although it is a first appearance against South Africa, the Dragons lock knows exactly what is coming.

Asked if the Springboks presented the ultimate physical test, he said: “Yes, I think it is. It is very different to playing New Zealand last week.

“Their (South Africa’s) traditional strengths are a big forward pack, big aerial game, scrum, lineout – it will be a challenge in those areas.

“They are world champions for a reason, and I think ultimately that’s what sport is – it is about competing.

“When you get to the top level there is a lot of pressure and you do need to get results, but at the root of it all it began as a means of enjoyment, and I do take enjoyment from trying to compete with the best.

“Maybe the micro-moments can be hard and can be painful and you feel them afterwards, but the process itself and the whole experience is very worthwhile, and more so the higher level you go to.

“You need to get yourself up for physical confrontation. Yes, that confrontation steps up at Test level, but if anything it is something that makes me excited, knowing you are going to compete against the best.”

Harlequins v Wasps – Gallagher Premiership – Twickenham Stoop
Former Wasps player Will Rowlands (Adam Davy/PA)

Rowlands, 30, forged his career in the Gallagher Premiership, rising to Test status, and he has maintained impressive form for Newport-based Dragons in the United Rugby Championship.

“The Premiership offers up plenty of pretty physical encounters when your nuts and bolts – set-piece, kicking for territory – are important,” he added.

“I’ve had a number of contests like that over the years, and European games similarly, but Test level is a step up in terms of quality and the occasion, and I am excited by it.”

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