The long goodbye for Alun Wyn Jones

Swansea RFC v Barbarians RFC - Alun Wyn Jones of Barbarians walks onto the field with his children - The long goodbye for Alun Wyn Jones - Huw Evans Agency/Chris Fairweather
Swansea RFC v Barbarians RFC - Alun Wyn Jones of Barbarians walks onto the field with his children - The long goodbye for Alun Wyn Jones - Huw Evans Agency/Chris Fairweather

Whether this was the end remains to be seen but, if it was, it fittingly finished where it all started. Four miles from Bonymaen RFC, where the great Alun Wyn Jones first picked up a rugby ball, at Swansea’s historic St Helen’s Ground, the curtain might have been brought down on one of the most distinguished careers in the history of Welsh rugby.

That Jones’s Swansea swansong was not with his beloved Ospreys was immaterial. Here, in front of a packed crowd on a balmy night at the spiritual home of Swansea rugby, the lock turned out for both the Barbarians and the “Whites” – playing 50 minutes for the Barbarians and the rest for the hosts – to take his place in the pantheon of club greats, warriors such as Robert Jones and Scott Gibbs, and finish his career as it started, at St Helen’s.

And, for the first time in those 19 years, no matter the score, which happened to be 68-33 to the famous invitational side, Jones was a winner.

The lock is a veteran of four British and Irish Lions tours and 170 caps across Wales and the combined Home Nations side; he is the most-capped rugby player of all time, with three Six Nations Grand Slams to his name, but for all the cachet that accompanies such feats, it says a lot about the man that he chose to say goodbye with his people in South Wales.

Among the ice-cream and bouncy castles, the gnarly forward was a kid again – thankfully, after his Twickenham disaster on Sunday, spared goal-kicking duties – hanging around to be mobbed by autograph and picture-hunters after the final whistle.

It had all the echoes of a homecoming and, simultaneously, a farewell.

The 37-year-old, who still has not confirmed a total retirement from rugby despite being out of contract, was not so decisive as his second-row partner for the Barbarians, Bradley Davies. This was Davies’s final outing in professional rugby after a stellar career featuring 66 Wales caps and stints at Ospreys, Cardiff and Wasps.

Welsh rugby has been through the mill this season, with the national team threatening to strike in the Six Nations over contract disputes. This, for Davies, was a reminder of all that was good about the sport in Wales.

“Rocking up here to St Helen’s, full, with the crowd on the bank, a nice day – these are my memories of Welsh rugby,” Davies said. “It was 100 per cent a throwback. That’s what we’re missing. I’d watch Ponty[pool] versus Cardiff on Boxing Day any day of the week.

“Alun Wyn’s a fantastic player and no one has ever achieved what he has. We were probably fighting for the same shirt for 15 years – he’s taken 100 caps off me! He’s a good mate of mine and you can see what it means to him. Before the game he was upset, with a tear in his eye. He’s a very passionate man.”

Webb becomes third Wales veteran to retire before World Cup

Earlier yesterday, Jones’s Ospreys team-mate Rhys Webb became the third veteran of Wales’s 54-player training squad to retire in the midst of preparations for the World Cup later this year.

The 34-year-old, who has two caps for the Lions, has followed in the footsteps of Jones and Justin Tipuric, who both retired from international duty earlier in May.

Announcing the decision on Instagram, Webb said that the “uncertainty and difficulties” in Welsh rugby meant that he was forced to pursue a playing opportunity abroad at club level for next season. The announcement came with 100 days to go until the global showpiece in France.

Wales’s 60-cap rule, which has since been axed, meant that Webb could not play at the 2019 World Cup because he only had 28 caps when he moved to Toulon, so the scrum-half will now end his career without having represented his nation at rugby’s blue riband event.

In a statement, Webb said: “Having the opportunity to play for Wales again recently has been a huge honour and I am proud to have been named as part of the World Cup training squad.

“However, whilst I would have relished the chance to end my career playing for a Welsh region, the present uncertainty and difficulties in Welsh rugby meant there was little opportunity for a contract that offered security for the coming years, as I see out my professional career.

“I feel that it is the right time now for me to step away from international rugby and just enjoy my last few years as a professional rugby player.

“I’d like to thank the Ospreys for continuing to believe in me – even when my omission from the Welsh squad sometimes had me doubting my own ability – and Warren [Gatland], for giving me a chance to pull the famous red jersey on, once again.”