Jones has always been a leader for Wales

Puerto Madryn may not spring to mind when considering important staging posts in the history of Welsh rugby, but the Patagonian port town has played its own, small part.

It was here that around 150 resilient Welsh settlers arrived in 1865 in order to start a new life and community that still thrives today. Just over 141 years later, the town welcomed another band of intrepid travellers from the principality.

Wales entered the Estadio Raul Conti for the first match of their two-Test tour of Argentina in June 2006 with a new coach and an inexperienced team. Following a tumultuous season Gareth Jenkins had decided to leave his stars at home, opening the door to four debutants from the Ospreys.

Ian Evans and James Hook would both score tries in a narrow defeat, while Richard Hibbard would enjoy a long international career, but it was Alun Wyn Jones who was destined for greatness. Playing out of position that summer proved no obstacle for the forward, and 105 Wales caps later he will lead his country into another new dawn against Italy Sunday.

The Stadio Olimpico is a rather plusher venue than the 15,000-capacity concrete arena in which he made his first Test appearance. But the setting, and his elevation to the captaincy, will matter little to Jones.

“Al’s always had that about him, always had that presence. He’s always wanted to be the best, always had that dedication and it shows — that’s why he’s got over 100 caps,” Hibbard told ESPN.

“He leads from the front. He’s always first, whether it be the kick-chase or [being] captain — he just always wants to do it. He never wants to hide, he just wants the team to succeed.”

Hibbard knows Jones better than most, having shared a pack with the new Wales skipper for a decade at club and international level.

The Gloucester hooker was also ensconced in the front row when his former Ospreys teammate captained the British & Irish Lions to a series-clinching Test win against Australia in 2013. And he believes that the lock’s leadership skills have been on display since that afternoon in Patagonia.

“He’s always been that captain/leader, even if he’s not the actual captain,” Hibbard added. “Just his presence and his leadership on the field, the way that he speaks, the way he prepares for everything and the way he plays.

“He plays out in front. You don’t see him have a bad game. He puts himself in some dark holes for the team and he doesn’t do all the glory stuff, he puts in the hard work.

“He’s always been super-dedicated, the boys can’t get over how much of a machine he is. He’s always up for it, he’s always 100 percent committed in training.

“I just don’t know how he does it. Obviously you put your body through so much, but he’s always up for the training sessions, always up for the games. He’s just a machine.”

That dedication has been on display at Wales’ training base this week, where coach Rob Howley has put his side through two full-contact practice matches, the first refereed by Nigel Owens.

It is hoped that Wales will avoid the type of sluggish performance that cost them against Australia in the autumn, and almost saw them lose to Argentina and Japan.

“They had a hard time in the press and with the public in Wales in the autumn,” Hibbard said. “But, ultimately, they had three wins out of four, which is an extremely good achievement, and they’ll take that.

“The last game they won against South Africa, and they’ll take that momentum and go into the Six Nations.”

If anyone is to ensure that standards are met, then it will be the man leading from the front.