Six Nations 2017: Alun Wyn Jones puts 'footprint' on Wales, says Rob Howley

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Six Nations 2017: New Wales captain Jones says England the team to beat
Six Nations: Italy v Wales
Date: Sunday, 5 February Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

New captain Alun Wyn Jones has already "put his footprint" on Wales' 2017 Six Nations squad, says coach Rob Howley.

Ospreys lock Jones, 31, has replaced Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton, who led the team for six years.

"There's a new competitive edge about the squad with a new dynamic in the captain," said Howley.

"He's certainly put his footprint on his captaincy style over the past few days and Alun Wyn will flourish in the role."

2017 Six Nations captains Sergio Parisse, Rory Best, Greig Laidlaw, Guilhem Guirado, Dylan Hartley and Alun Wyn Jones
The 2017 Six Nations captains (L-R) Sergio Parisse, Rory Best, Greig Laidlaw, Dylan Hartley, Guilhem Guirado and Alun Wyn Jones

Warburton, who has said he remains as hungry as ever to play for Wales, faces stiff competition for a place in the team.

Ospreys open-side Justin Tipuric was outstanding in Wales' 27-13 win over South Africa in November, while Bath's Taulupe Faletau and Gloucester's Ross Moriarty are among the other leading contenders for back-row spots.

Warburton has switched between the six and seven jerseys for Blues this season.

He also played blind-side when Tipuric was at open-side in Wales' November win over Argentina.

Looking for 'another level'

As well as their victories over South Africa and Argentina in the autumn, Wales narrowly beat Japan, but their series began with a poor display in defeat by Australia.

Howley says he understands the criticism that came Wales' way.

He said: "We've got over the line in the autumn three times so I think the players can take pride in that.

"But we all accept that we need to go to another level, and another level started on Monday."

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Six Nations 2017: Nigel Owens to guide Wales over high tackles

New faces bring 'freshness' and 'competitive edge'

There are seven uncapped players in the Wales squad, five of whom have not previously been involved.

Howley says the new players helped bring a "freshness" and "a new competitive edge" to the squad when they gathered on Monday.

"There was a different feel," he said. "There was a lot of energy, but maybe players who have been in our environment for a period of time have said something to themselves that they haven't been good enough.

"And ultimately we want to set the standards.

"It's a big year as everyone knows, but that standard has to be set in the Welsh jersey and the last couple (of Six Nations) we've come up short - second and joint second and that hurts."

Wales in the 2017 Six Nations
Sunday, 5 February, 14:00 GMT, Stadio Olimpico: Italy v Wales
Saturday, 11 February, 16:50 GMT, Principality Stadium: Wales v England
Saturday, 25 February, 14:25 GMT, Murrayfield: Scotland v Wales
Friday, 10 March, 20:05 GMT, Principality Stadium: Wales v Ireland
Saturday, 18 March, 14:45 GMT, Stade d France: France v Wales

'Tough start' for Wales

Howley says his players understand the need to start the tournament well, saying: "We haven't won it for a while and it's important we put a marker down and it starts in Italy in two weeks' time."

Wales have six days between playing in Rome and hosting reigning champions England on 11 February in Cardiff.

Howley said Wales' tournament start is a "tough assignment".

He added: "We won't look beyond the first game.

"You'd rather play at home. They've got a new coaching team and that's going to be a huge motivation - it will probably be at their highest."

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