Adam Beard has described his second-row colleague Alun Wyn Jones as “the ultimate professional” ahead of Wales’ South Africa tour.
Jones has made a world record 162 Test match appearances for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.
A shoulder injury and two operations hampered him this season, though, and he has only featured once for Wales since late October.
He won his 150th Wales cap in a shock Guinness Six Nations home defeat against Italy three months ago, being selected ahead of an in-form Will Rowlands.
Jones, who will be 37 in September, made his Test debut 16 years ago and was skipper before injury struck, heads to South Africa on Thursday as part of a Wales squad captained by Dan Biggar that faces three Tests against the world champion Springboks.
“Al is the ultimate professional, and he is looking very good,” Beard said. “He is always the one setting standards, pushing the boys along.
“You can see the enthusiasm and everything he has around the squad. He is the the one driving it, always chatting, and he is enjoying his rugby.
“He might prefer to be captain, he might not, I am not too sure. It might take a little bit of pressure off him not being the captain, but you just know the leadership roles he has anyway.
“He might not have the captain’s armband, but he is still the one leading the enthusiasm, squad ethics and stuff like that.”
Wales have lost all 10 previous Tests against the Springboks on South Africa soil, which underlines how big a task lies ahead.
And they can reflect on just four wins – victories over Canada, Fiji, Australia and Scotland – in the last 12 months.
Beard added: “I think we work best when we are actually underdogs.
“Going into this tour, nobody has given us any sort of chance to go out there and get a victory against South Africa. As a Welsh nation, we thrive under those circumstances.
“We were three points away from beating South Africa and being in a World Cup final three years ago and last autumn we were unlucky not to get a victory.
“They are big men who are very direct and they come hard at you. We know our set-piece has got to be on point and definitely the physicality point of the game. We have got to take it head-on to them.
“Last week, we had a bit of a hit-out with a referee coming in. We had two teams of 15 pretty much going at it live in all our different game scenarios.
“We haven’t played for a couple of weeks so it’s important that we’ve had those training sessions where it needs to get a bit tasty, a bit lively, so when we got out to South Africa we are ready for that confrontation.
“There is no better opportunity now to dust off what has happened, get on this tour and prove a point to everyone who is doubting us.”