Wales coach Warren Gatland hopes Alun Wyn Jones can earn more plaudits with a fine performance in his record-equalling 129th Test appearance against Georgia.
The Six Nations Grand Slam champions will be the last of the big hitters to kick-off their Rugby World Cup campaign when they take to the field in Toyota on Monday.
As expected, Gatland has named Jones in his line-up and that means the veteran lock will tie Gethin Jenkins’ Wales appearance record.
Jones will be key to Wales’ hopes of following up their Six Nations success with worldwide domination in Japan and Gatland is keen to see his star man deliver once again in a red shirt.
If he comes through that challege unscathed, the 34-year-old would then be able to claim the record outright in a huge Pool D clash against Australia.
“He has been absolutely outstanding in his services to Welsh rugby,” Gatland said of Jones. “He’s got better with age – he is like a good wine.
“Hopefully, he comes out of Monday night’s game fit and available and, if selected, as he always says, against Australia, he will get that chance to break that Welsh record.
“He doesn’t like me talking about these things, but he deserves all the accolades.
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 21, 2019
“He has been just such a great servant to Welsh rugby and the pleasing thing for me in the last couple of years is that recognition hasn’t been just from Wales, it has been worldwide, too.
“People have realised what a contribution he has given to world rugby in terms of his performances and leadership.
“That’s pleasing to see, that someone from Wales is recognised as one of the best players in the world in his position.”
While Wales have their captain fit and available, opponents Georgia are missing skipper Merab Sharikadze, who is still recovering from injury.
Gatland is not taking them lightly, though, adding: “With Georgia, we know how strong they are up front and their scrum is a weapon. We’ve got to be competent at scrum time.
“The boys had a good training session this morning. We’re really excited – we can’t wait for Monday night.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wales – Dan Biggar
Gareth Anscombe’s pre-tournament knee injury created a space at fly-half and, with Rhys Patchell among the replacements recovering from his own ailment, Biggar is the man who starts the campaign at number 10. He has started just two games for his country in 2019 but has experience on the world stage, having kicked 23 points to see off England four years ago.
Georgia – Tedo Abzhandadze
Abzhandadze, the opposite fly-half, was a star of Georgia’s Under-20 team and, still just 20, has earned the starting job at the World Cup, playing what will be only his 10th Test against Wales. His early senior performances have not been entirely convincing and he will need to step up in a big way against the Welsh.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– The only previous meeting between these sides took place in November 2017 when Wales earned a hard-fought 13-6 win.
– Wales come into this fixture having lost their past two Rugby World Cup games. They have never lost three or more in succession at the tournament.
– Among Tier 1 sides, only Argentina have lost as many Rugby World Games to non-Tier 1 opposition as Wales (both three). The Welsh were beaten by Samoa in 1991 and 1999, as well as by Fiji in 2007.
– Georgia have lost 10 out of 10 Rugby World Cup games against Tier 1 opposition, with those defeats coming by an average margin of 33 points.
– Georgia won the 2019 Rugby Europe Championship, the eighth time in the past nine seasons they have triumphed at the second-tier tournament.
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