Wales head coach Rob Howley wants his side to be in the title shake-up going into the final round of games in the Six Nations.
Speaking to the media in London on Wednesday, Howley was looking to build on their end-of-year results, starting against Italy next week.
“Play to the best of our ability, to be highly competitive and be in with a chance of winning the tournament going into the last weekend,” was the response to his aspirations in the Championship before saying his men seem to be in a difficult position of keeping everyone happy.
“There was a huge focus going into the autumn series on skills and we’ll continue with that best practice. Everyone talks about the autumn as the first game was not acceptable in terms of performance but we went on to win the three games. I think you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t in terms of performance and winning.
“This Welsh side over the last eight years has sometimes come up short in terms of winning games and been criticised. In the autumn we got over the line and won three games and the players can be applauded for that. After the South Africa game we said in the changing room that it’s another level that we have to go to and that level will need to come in the Six Nations.”
While there is no Welsh region in the Champions Cup knockout stage this season, the Ospreys are sitting atop the PRO12 table while Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets are also performing well. That, according to Howley, has given the squad a lift as he looks forward to their campaign.
“I was hugely excited coming into the Six Nations,” he said. “There’s a freshness about the squad, there’s an excitement and we’ve got a new captain which changed dynamics.
“Sam Warburton has been a fantastic leader but needs to focus on his own game. There’s a lot of competition in the back-row and no doubt he will go away and do that. I’m delighted to have someone with the presence of Alun-Wyn, someone with 105 caps and has led the Lions. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Second-row Jones revealed it was a great honour to be named skipper and wants to create a culture of leaders in the squad moving forward.
“Before I was captain I was a player and before that a fan, a fan of the game and team. If we can grow more leaders on and off the field then that’s job done.
“I’m fortunate to have pulled on the red jersey and now I’m able to assist the team and the young players coming through and that’s a big opportunity for me.”