The Scarlets coach and former Wales fly-half tells us what he thinks about Leigh Halfpenny's replacement, the mood in the Wales camp on the eve of their first game in the Rugby World Cup 2015 and why he's joined Men United to help create a special pub quiz.

11 Sep 2015

Stephen Jones joins Men United

Former Welsh, British Lions, Wasps and Scarlets star Stephen Jones is celebrating 2015's showpiece of international rugby by supporting Prostate Cancer UK. The former fly-half and current Scarlets coach has penned his own Rugby World Cup quiz round which supporters can tackle across pubs in his homeland – and beyond – this Autumn. And the two-time Grand Slam winner, whose international career ended after the last World Cup in 2011, had time for an exclusive chat with us ahead of Wales' World Cup opener.

With Leigh Halfpenny missing from the Wales' squad through injury, it's provided Liam Williams with an opportunity to impress doesn't it?

Obviously Liam Williams is in pole position. Very unfortunate that Leigh Halfpenny picked up the injury but it's an opportunity for Liam. He’s just come back having recovered from injury himself. He’s a quality player, a great person and will be excited at the challenge ahead.

I've seen him at Scarlets. He's a quality person, a great professional. Everybody knows his skill set. He finished the last game of the Six Nations, came on against Italy, and was wonderful. His style of play is different to Leigh but it gives us other opportunities and different options. It's unfortunate for Leigh but for Liam its an opportunity.

What test will Uruguay pose?

The reality of it is we should be too strong for them. All our players are in great physical condition and work well together. It’s an experienced group which has been together for a long time, so I expect us to win, and win well.

And set down a marker to for the rest of the tournament?

Yes. You want to create as much momentum as you can; that’s the reality of things. If certain things and certain facets of your game don’t go the way you would like it then the good thing is you have an opportunity to work on it in the week before the next game. Wales will improve. We are traditionally slow starters but begin to gather momentum as the tournaments go on. I expect that to be the case.

What about the mood in Wales, is everyone looking forward to the nation coming together?

Everyone is looking forward to it; it's as simple as that. A few people are saying it seems to have taken forever to get this tournament going but now it's upon us everybody is excited. It will be a wonderful seven or eight weeks and everybody is ready for it.

Because of the skill set of the players we have in the group and the experience and determination they have. It's a great period in Welsh sport at the moment and makes you very proud to be Welsh.

What did it mean to you to represent Wales in the World Cup?

It's special, without a shadow of a doubt. All the team's efforts and resources are maximised, and you’re at your peak for a competition that happens once every four years.

It’s special to be part of your World Cup squad and represent your nation in what is a massive sporting event.

I enjoyed various World Cups for different reasons. We were a young group going to Australia in 2003 and sort of clicked under that management, even though we got knocked out in the quarter-finals. We improved dramatically as a side in the 2011 tournament. We lost in the semi-finals against France, but we were further down the path then as an international team and were a far stronger squad.

What do you make of the draw pitting Wales against England and Australia in the ‘Group of Death’?

I can't ever remember seeing big teams together like that. It should make for some great rugby but obviously there will be one big team missing out. When the draw was made a couple of years ago, Wales had a bit of success against England. Now England has turned the tide with their success in the Six Nations and Stuart Lancaster has picked a very competitive squad. We're starting in a good mindset. But straight away it's an elimination phase, isn't it?

Lets not forget Fiji as well – they beat us in the group stages in 2007. World Cup year is when they can get all those players scattered across the world together, a lot of them playing in the top fourteen in France and the super franchises down south. So the island teams will have all their best players available to them and they've got so many quality players.

Wales rugby team joins Men United

Are you looking forward to Wales taking on England at Twickenham on 26 September?

It will be outstanding. As a player, you probably won't have that much interest in what tag you've been given – whether you’re favourite or the underdog – you'd be so focused on making sure you deliver your own performance. But it is going to be some atmosphere. The place is going to be bouncing, isn't it? 

How do you rank England going into their home tournament?

They've got some great talent. Having coached Wasps, I know quite a lot of the players and they have a lot of talent. If you look at the last three years, the England U20 side has made three World Cup finals, winning it twice, so there's a wonderful crop coming through. They've certainly got things right and Stuart Lancaster will be able to pick a very competitive squad of very ambitious, very driven, very professional players. Add in the spice that they're the home nation and I think it's just a wonderful situation for them.

England will be very much looking forward to the tournament and showing the rugby world where they're at.

What about Ireland?

They've gathered a lot of momentum of late under Joe Schmidt. Since he's been coaching them they've been very successful, have a very settled squad, and are a team that knows how to win. You can also look at the success of the Irish provinces in Europe in the Heineken Cup, and they've done well in picking up the Six Nations Championship last year. They're in a good place.

And Scotland?

When you get given a team for the World Cup to work with, as opposed to the Six Nations, it's different because you're getting more time and chance to influence a team in your style of play. So Scotland’s coaching staff, who are very good and very experienced, will be enjoying the access they're getting to the players. Obviously they’ll be bitterly disappointed with the way the Six Nations ran for them, but they'll probably use that as good fuel to kick on and do well in the World Cup.

Is the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres now closing?

Obviously England beat New Zealand two years ago and beat Australia, too. And Wales beat South Africa last time we played them, so the gap is definitely closing.

Will you miss being part of the Wales team during the tournament?

It'll be a lovely atmosphere. I love watching the games but I don't miss the bumps and bruises. I don't miss the body being battered and bruised on a Sunday morning.

Stephen Jones will be supporting Wales and Men United, the 300,000 strong movement dedicated to the fight against prostate cancer, during the tournament. To join Stephen at Men United download a quiz pack or ask your local Men United Arms pub how they are raising money to beat prostate cancer.

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