FORMER Wales international wing Mark Jones has been named as Wales Under 20 [men’s] interim head coach after Byron Hayward tendered his resignation as Lead Pathway coach.
The Welsh Rugby Union has acted swiftly in replacing Hayward with Jones who has a vast pedigree as a former player with Wales and the Scarlets before beginning his coaching career which has seen stints at Scarlets, Rotherham Titans, RGC, Namibia, Crusaders and Worcester Warriors.
In 2013 he supported Rob Howley as interim attack coach during the Championship winning Six Nations campaign and also accompanied Robin McBryde on the 2013 tour of Japan.
“After 18 months in post and in his second time as head coach of the Wales Men’s U20s, Byron Hayward has chosen to step down from this position,” said WRU head of player development, John Alder.
“We would like to extend a sincere thanks to Bryon for all he has brought to the U20s programme, our players, and the management team during his tenure as head coach, leading the U20s out of the covid period and to a second-place finish in the 2022 Six Nations summer series, losing the final to a strong South African side.
“While the past two years have been challenging from an U20 results perspective, we have seen the likes of Mason Grady, Daffyd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza, as recent U20 graduates, cement themselves as genuine Test players on the world stage with Wales.”
Jones’ immediate focus will be on the World Rugby U20 Championship which kicks off on June 24 where Wales face New Zealand in Paarl, South Africa. Their other Pool A games are against defending world champions France and Japan.
“From my perspective it is a really good opportunity and I’m excited about getting back to coaching after what happened at Worcester,” said Jones.
“It’s a short-term role taking the boys to a World Cup. I’m excited about making a great environment for the boys and hopefully trying to get them to play with a smile on their face out on the field which is the key.”
Wales were unable to win a game in the recently completed U20 Six Nations, but Jones was encouraged by what he saw, despite the lack of positive results.
“The results probably don’t reflect the potential in the group,” he said, “Clearly, they were beaten five times during the tournament but there were moments in the games up until 60 minutes where they were very competitive in all games, probably apart from the France game.
“There are building blocks in place, and I’m just wanting to try and take them to the next level. I think there is opportunity to try and make the boys better. We haven’t got a lot of time with them but the time we have, we have got to make sure we utilise it really effectively.”
Jones is hoping to utilise his own experience from playing in World Cups when he meets up with a preliminary squad for the first time next Thursday.
“It was black and white TV when I was playing but what I took from the World Cups is that it’s all about your preparation before you get there,” he said.
“When you are in the tournament itself – particularly an U20s tournament – you have short turnarounds, you have very little opportunities to get out and enjoy the country because you are so busy and everything is so intense, so making sure we get our work done before we get off the shores is really important to get ourselves in a great place.
“We need to put in some great performances against some tough opposition so we can then enjoy what limited downtime we will have in South Africa. We have got to work hard, and we have got to make it tough for the boys, but they have to enjoy it too and commit to the process.”