The Wales head coach, Wayne Pivac, does not expect to have Alun Wyn Jones available for this season’s Six Nations Championship. Jones will undergo surgery on his left shoulder after being injured during last Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series opener against New Zealand.
It is the same shoulder he hurt before the British & Irish Lions’ South Africa tour earlier this year, although on that occasion he made a startling recovery and featured in all three Tests.
Pivac, whose team won the Six Nations title last season and start their defence against Ireland in February, said: “I don’t think he will be available for the Six Nations. You learn a lot about the worth of people when they are not there. I think a lot of people take Alun Wyn for granted – he has always been there and got seniority. That leadership is really important. The essence is on others to step up and take that role on.”
The 36-year-old Wales totem would have won his 150th cap against the world champions South Africa on Saturday, and he remains an integral part of Pivac’s plans, with a return to playing likely before the current season ends.
Asked about Jones’s prospects for the 2023 World Cup in France, Pivac added: “The intention is always to see if Al can get to the World Cup. I think it’s a realistic goal, personally. You’ve just got to see him in training and when he is playing, the efforts he puts in. I don’t see anything going anywhere near backwards in terms of his performances.
“A bit of time off, we spoke about this before Al left camp. It’s not ideal for him. We are all looking forward to him playing 150 Test matches for Wales.”
Ellis Jenkins, meanwhile, will make his first Wales appearance for three years this weekend. The Cardiff flanker suffered a serious knee injury during Wales’s 2018 autumn victory over the Springboks and was sidelined from all rugby for 26 months, but he now returns to Test action among six changes from the 54-16 defeat against New Zealand. Jenkins replaces Ross Moriarty, who like Jones suffered a shoulder injury against the All Blacks, while Will Rowlands takes over from the captain in the second row.
Elsewhere, there are starts for Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Dan Biggar and Rhys Carré, with the centre Jonathan Davies captaining the team. Jones and Moriarty are among a number of injured British and Irish Lions unavailable to Pivac, with that list also including Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens, George North, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.
Jenkins has shaken off a rib injury to start, but more surprising selections are Saracens centre Tompkins being preferred to Johnny Williams – a try-scorer against New Zealand – and Carré replacing the Lions Test loosehead prop Wyn Jones.
Tompkins, the Gloucester wing Rees-Zammit and the Northampton fly-half Biggar were unavailable for the All Blacks fixture as it fell outside World Rugby’s autumn international window and Premiership clubs do not release non-English players to feature in those games.
Rees-Zammit is preferred to Owen Lane, with Biggar in for Gareth Anscombe, who drops to the bench, as Wales take on a South Africa team that beat New Zealand in the Rugby Championship last month.
Pivac’s replacements include the uncapped South Africa-born Ulster hooker Bradley Roberts. He was drafted into the national squad last week and qualifies for Wales through his paternal grandmother.