Rugby World Cup 2011
'Fearless' youth excites Jones
Stephen Jones (File)
Wellington - Wales have been revitalised by a raft of "fearless" younger players, veteran flyhalf Stephen Jones said ahead of his team's Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Ireland on Saturday.
Captained by Sam Warburton, who turned 23 on Wednesday, the Welsh have demonstrated both a silky attack and a hard-nosed defence during the tournament, with the likes of 19-year-old wing George North and 20-year-old No 8 Toby Faletau coming to the fore.
"The players and management are happy with the way we're progressing," the 33-year-old Jones told reporters on Wednesday.
"We've been fortunate with injuries. Our game has been evolving and developing nicely," added Jones, Wales's record cap-holder with 102 Test appearances for his country behind him.
"Team morale is fantastic. It's a young squad. With the younger players, they're more fearless, and they go out there and back themselves, that's what our guys have done.
"They've gone out there and thrown the ball around."
After a one-point loss to champions South Africa and a narrow victory over Samoa in the first two pool games, Wales then notched up 147 points against Namibia and 2007 nemesis Fiji, conceding just one converted interception try.
"What we can't become is predictable in attack, we have to have variety and we're confident that our gameplan gives us that," said Scarlets star Jones, who may be on the bench at the weekend given the form of club-mate Rhys Priestland.
"It's important that we can manipulate defences so that we can play a great style of rugby. What's important is that we go out and express ourselves."
Jones added: "We've had so many good youngsters come through, put their hand up and the way they've been playing they've raised the bar. That really has had a good knock-on effect for the rest of the squad.
"It's certainly the most competitive squad I've been part of," insisted Jones, also capped six times by the British and Irish Lions.
"It gives the coaches problems, it's a nice situation to be in, I suppose.
"Everyone's challenging and knocking on the door."
Skills coach Neil Jenkins, himself a former Wales fly-half and a Lion, added that confidence had swelled following the pool stages.
"In terms of conditioning, the boys are in fantastic shape, there's been a lot of hard work leading up to the World Cup and that's put us in good stead for the games here," Jenkins said.
"We knew we were in probably the toughest group of all, a very tough physical group. We managed to come through that. Obviously we lost to the Springboks first up, but the game could have gone either way and we took a lot of confidence from that as well, and then there was a fantastic win against Samoa.
"The four games we played so far, we're in pretty good shape.
"We always try to play an entertaining style of rugby but it's also about winning at the end of the day, so we try to get the balance right and do the right thing at the right time."* Click HERE for the latest RWC odds on BET.CO.ZA