Just to establish from the outset, this is not an attack on Alun Wyn-Jones (click on the link for Robert Rees’ look at AWJ back in 2020) or his achievements. The Neath and Swansea Osprey has been a tremendous and loyal servant to Wales and Welsh rugby for well over a decade. Whilst he has represented Wales as a player or captain, Wales has reached some genuine, world-class highs. No, the point here is to examine team ethic and cohesion against individual records or accolades. Hence the title, AWJ and the cult of the individual.
This issue of individuality over team doesn’t just afflict Welsh rugby. It can and does affect other teams, and other sports. Again, this is not aimed to denigrate AWJ or any particular individual concerned. Often they will have little say in the narratives created around them. Narratives created by media and fans alike. Players don’t get off completely scot-free however. A minority of them might play along and court attention, when it might be better to distance themselves from the hype.
Unlucky Will Rowlands
AWJ has been selected to play against Italy in Wales’ final Six Nations game for 2022 against Italy. This is after a spell on the side-lines with injury (plus shoulder surgery) after last year’s Autumn International versus New Zealand. Unlucky second-rower Will Rowlands steps aside having performed well since coming in. Ahead of the Italy fixture, there is also the thorny issue of whether Dan Biggar will retain the captaincy, now that AWJ is returning.
• Team Announcement •
Here's your Wales team to face Italy at Principality Stadium in the final round of the #GuinnessSixNations.
➥ Diwrnod enfawr i Alun Wyn Jones a Dan Biggar yn cael eu 150fed a 100fed cap dros Gymru.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 15, 2022
Wales has made seven changes following their defeat to France. Wayne Pivac (along with his coaching team) is trying out some new players and player combinations. If the team performs well then happy days. A bad showing and questions might be asked of their decision to treat the game against Italy as a training exercise to try and develop squad depth; as well as a glorified testimonial for AWJ on his 150th cap and Biggar for his 100th.
This brings us back to the issue of AWJ and the cult of the individual. Are team cohesion and individual records strange bedfellows? Or can they run alongside one another? For a team to be successful the stronger argument is for the former, rather than the latter.
Moving the focus away from AWJ for a moment, let’s look at Louis Rees-Zammit’s treatment over the last eighteen months or so. When he was scoring freely having come in for his debut, the media and fans were building him up as the next great thing. This is not LRZ’s fault but it put too many unrealistic expectations on his shoulders. A little bit further down the line with the tries not coming quite so swiftly, and coupled with a defensive lapse here or there. The knives came out for him and he was subsequently dropped. Another sporting case of, “tall poppy syndrome”.
As far as tactics go, questions were posed such as, “how do we get the ball to LRZ and get the most out of him?”. This is fine and a valid question. However, it is no use if in doing that we unbalance or disrupt the team as a whole. Cross-kicking to wingers can be a bit telegraphed and bypasses the other attacking players. At center Wales have a selection headache (as they do in other areas of the team). Nick Tompkins is the form center but who do Wales play alongside him?
@LWOSRugby wishes AWJ and Biggar all the best as they reach these immense milestones and recognize their fantastic contribution and dedication to the game. The only caveat is that no one person is bigger than the team and it would serve fans and media alike to remind themselves of this.
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