Alun Wyn Jones: The heart of a Lion

Before the 2019 World Cup third-place play-off, an intrepid journalist asked Alun Wyn Jones what it would mean to finish his career against the mighty All Blacks. [more]

Alun Wyn Jones: The heart of a Lion

Before the 2019 World Cup third-place play-off, an intrepid journalist asked Alun Wyn Jones what it would mean to finish his career against the mighty All Blacks.

He was treated to a trademark AWJ stare – the kind of look that he has given opponents and the odd media member time and again over the near two decades at the top.

That journalist was not the first to underestimate Jones’ longevity but even his biggest supporters probably could not have imagined what a youngster from Mumbles would go on to achieve.

A Wales debut at 20 was the starting point of a career that saw Jones earn a record 170 international caps, including touring with The British & Irish Lions on four separate occasions.

Only Ireland centres Mike Gibson and Brian O’Driscoll, and fellow lock and captain Willie John McBride have achieved that feat of four Tours with the Lions (McBride and Gibson toured five times).

For Jones, simply making the Tour was never going to be enough. He featured in all three Tests on each of those four Tours, writing his name into Lions legend in the process.

At just 23, he started the first Test against the Springboks in 2009, alongside Tour captain Paul O’Connell but four years on was when he truly came into his own.

By 2013, he had a second Grand Slam and third Six Nations title under his belt, and he and O’Connell were logically selected together once more for the opening Test against the Wallabies.

When O’Connell went down injured after the first Test, Jones took on even greater responsibility and he was then entrusted with the captaincy when Sam Warburton was ruled out of the decider.

Such is his aura that it is easy to forget that back then, Jones was not even the Wales captain. In fact, that is a role he only took on for good in 2017 – more than a decade after his debut.

But while he might not have had the official title, Jones was a born leader and he guided his men to one of the finest performances in Lions history.

He gave a memorable speech to the team before the game in Sydney, urging his team not to give up, and they duly obliged in a 41-16 victory to clinch the series.


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Three more Test caps followed in the dramatic drawn series against the All Blacks in 2017, with Jones then leading Wales to a Grand Slam, a spot at the top of the world rankings and a World Cup semi-final two years later.

He was not done there, no matter what some believed.

There was a further Six Nations title in 2021, followed by being named Tour captain for the Lions for the first time, returning to South Africa 12 years after making his Lions bow in the country.

And yet it almost seemed that he would never make it out of the country.

If Australia was his masterpiece, then 2021 was his unlikely encore. In a warm-up match against Japan in Edinburgh, Jones dislocated his shoulder, surely ending one of the great Lions careers.

But you do not win 170 international caps and represent the Lions in 12 Tests without a will of iron.

Alun Wyn Jones

Jones somehow recovered from that injury to land in South Africa three weeks later, taking his place as captain in the Test side for the opening victory in Cape Town.

Now, at the age of 37, Jones has made the decision to call time on his international career, paying tribute to the clubs in south Wales who nurtured his talent.

He said: “The opportunity to be professional in the sport I love was a dream come true, and to represent my home region, the Ospreys, and clubs within the region, namely Mumbles and particularly Bonymaen, who guided me in my favourite years, was beyond special and something for which I am hugely grateful.”

From Bonymaen to Bondi Beach, Jones’ legacy will outlast even those trademark stares. At long last, it is safe to say this is the end of the road for one of Wales and the Lions’ all-time greats.

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