Record-breaking Alun Wyn Jones will go down as a rugby union all-time great
Alun Wyn Jones will go down in rugby union history as an all-time great of the game.
The 37-year-old Ospreys lock has announced his retirement from international rugby after a career that reaped a world record 170 Test match appearances – 158 for Wales and 12 for the British and Irish Lions.
His Wales odyssey spanned 17 years, while he captained his country and the Lions.
Thank you Alun-Wyn Jones for everything you've done in a @WelshRugbyUnion shirt ❤️
Most capped International player of all-time 👏
🏴 Wales Cap #1046🏴158 Wales Caps🦁12 British & Irish Lions Caps
Read more 🔗https://t.co/Dwd0LxDxnk pic.twitter.com/8DPvsgWtcn
— Ospreys (@ospreys) May 19, 2023
And he will rightly be lauded in the same revered company as Welsh rugby legends such as Sir Gareth Edwards, Barry John and JPR Williams.
Jones’ international career began 7,500 miles from home at the sporting outpost of Estadio Raul Conti in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia.
Selected by new Wales coach Gareth Jenkins alongside James Hook, Richard Hibbard and Ian Evans among four debutants in the match-day 23 against first Test opponents Argentina that June afternoon, a 20-year-old Jones started as blindside flanker.
Little could anyone have known that it would launch approaching two decades in a Wales shirt.
He set a new national cap record when he overtook former prop Gethin Jenkins during the 2019 World Cup.
And then he moved past New Zealand World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw’s mark of 148 caps, maintaining incredible consistency of performance in one of the sport’s toughest playing positions.
He helped Wales win five Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, played in four World Cups and helped Wales reach two World Cup semi-finals.
In the early stages of Jones’ Test career, though, Wales were inconsistent performers.
170 – Alun Wyn Jones is the player with the most Test appearances in men's rugby history (170), a tally which includes 12 caps for @lionsofficial – AWJ has also made the second most @SixNationsRugby appearances (67) and completed the most tackles in the Championship (752). Legend pic.twitter.com/ltJyvz8rAS
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) May 19, 2023
No greater an illustration of this came at the 2007 World Cup, where a dramatic pool stage defeat against Fiji in Nantes meant an early exit and coach Jenkins losing his job.
Warren Gatland’s appointment as Jenkins’ successor in early 2008 kick-started a spectacular change of fortunes, with players like Jones, Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips and Taulupe Faletau to the fore.
Wales reached the 2011 World Cup semi-finals before having Warburton sent off and losing by a point to France, were quarter-finalists four years later and then semi-finalists again in Japan in 2019. Jones made more World Cup appearances than any other Welshman, proving a driving force on the global stage.
And his Lions chapter was equally as impressive, with only two players – Willie John McBride and Dickie Jeeps – playing in more Tests than Jones did.
This speech sums up Alun Wyn Jones. pic.twitter.com/fhQbEFL2dI
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) May 19, 2023
He was an ever-present in four Lions Test series, with captaincy on the 2021 tour to South Africa fittingly rewarding his status in the game. He also led the Lions to a Test series-clinching victory over Australia eight years earlier when Warburton was injured.
Given Jones’ fitness levels, it would have been no surprise to have see him being selected for a fifth and final World Cup campaign in France later this year.
But he has decided to call it a day on rugby union’s biggest stage, and Wales – maybe even the world game – are unlikely to see his like again.