Ryan Jones will return five years on to the scene of his British & Irish Lions debut when he leads Wales in the first Test against New Zealand at Dunedin’s Carisbrook ground on Saturday.
The Ospreys skipper scored a try in a 30-19 victory over Otago on the 2005 tour shortly after joining the squad as a replacement. He then went on to secure his place in all three tests.
And Jones has never forgotten the experience of playing in New Zealand and has warned his squad that it is “the toughest place on the planet when it comes to rugby tours.”
Even so, the Wales captain insists his side has a chance to write a new page in the history books in what will be the last international played at the old Carisbrook ground on Saturday – even though the All Blacks warmed up with a 66-28 recod win over Ireland this weekend.
Despite the 2005 series defeat by the Lions, Jones has plenty of fond memories of the land of the long white cloud, both on the pitch, where he cemented his ball carrying reputation on the world stage, and off it where he made many friends.
“I have extremely fond memories of New Zealand from 2005 and I’ve been very much looking forward to coming back,” said Jones who arrived with his team in Auckland last Thursday, before travelling to Dunedin for the first Test match.
“Just driving in on the team coach to Auckland brought it all flooding back. We had some great times in some different places in the City and made some good friends. I really enjoyed the rugby we played on the tour, regardless of the ultimate result.
“This is a tough old place to come and play rugby – it’s the toughest mountain you can climb in the game, probably the toughest place in the world to tour. But we hope we can produce something historic.
“New Zealand feels very much like home. It’s a nation of people who love their rugby. We have had a great welcome and the people have all been friendly and they will be right up until Friday afternoon.
“Sometime on Friday the atmosphere will change as they all get behind the All Blacks – probably until Sunday when everyone will be nice to you again!
”That’s how seriously they take their rugby in New Zealand. We are expecting intensity and we must match it. We have the opportunity to try to make some history and we have come here to do a job.”
Wales have travelled with a strong and experienced 27-man squad which includes two uncapped players in Dragons wing Will Harris and Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle. They face the All Blacks in Carisbrook and then Waikato a week later on the back of a close fought 34-31 defeat to South Africa at the Millennium Stadium at the beginning of the month.
But Jones believes his side can learn from that loss at the hands of the world champions Springboks and build for a double assault on Kiwi soil.
“We were hugely disappointed to miss out on wining the South Africa game – it was tough to take. But we know that the errors we made were things in our control and we can do something about them,” added Jones.
“There were a lot of positives on display in that game we scored three tries and pushed the world champions right to the edge, we have a few things to work on but we have time to do that before we play the All Blacks.
“We know that if we can win one of these next two Tests then that could be the tipping point that changes the team psyche and means we start winning the close ones instead of losing them like we have been doing.
“There’s no bigger game than New Zealand in their own back yard, but we are here to take them on and we are all really looking forward to it. We will be giving everything, it’s going to be full pelt for 80, or 90 minutes as it is more often these days, but we won’t be taking a backwards step.”