Record-breaking Wales star Alun Wyn Jones the stand-out candidate to lead Lions

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Alun Wyn Jones’ appointment as captain of the 2021 British and Irish Lions should have come as a surprise to no-one.

It is 15 years since the Wales skipper arrived in international rugby, making his Test debut at blindside flanker against Argentina in Patagonia.

Wales’ management team at the time knew they had something special, and Jones’ stellar career has confirmed those thoughts many times over.

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As he prepares to lead the Lions in South Africa, second-row forward Jones can reflect on a mighty innings highlighted by a world-record 157 Test match appearances, five Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals.

If he plays in all three Tests against the Springboks, then he will move on to 12 for the Lions, with only Willie John McBride and Dickie Jeeps above him.

And while his 36th birthday might be less than three months away, Jones’ powers show no sign of waning.

When he overtook New Zealand World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw’s global-best figure of 148 Tests last autumn, current Lions boss and his Wales head coach of 11 years, Warren Gatland, paid Jones a glowing tribute.

Lions Training Session – Stade Santander International
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland (centre) (Gary Grimshaw/PA)

“I am not surprised he reached the milestone, and I am also not surprised by the longevity of his career,” Gatland said.

“He is unbelievably respected by the players – the example that he sets at training, the high expectations that he has on himself.

“At training you will call a lineout or a scrum or a next play, and he runs off and he is the first one there setting the example.

“That honesty really comes through with his own performances. He doesn’t hide away from anything, and that’s why he has so much respect from the players, and what I admire about him is he still never takes the jersey for granted.

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“He is an unbelievable competitor. He is smart in the way that he plays, and that experience of knowing when to go hard in terms of kick-chase, the physicality that he brings in the contact area and the breakdown. He leads very much by example.

“I admire him because he is comfortable having different ideas, he is comfortable challenging others and challenging myself when I was coaching and disagreeing with me.

“I didn’t always agree with him, but you know he is very much his own man, and I think that is one of the strengths that he has and he’s brought to that Welsh team.”

Jones has captained the Lions before, skippering them to a third Test victory over Australia in Sydney eight years ago when tour leader Sam Warburton was injured, that clinched the series.

But now he has one of world rugby’s most coveted jobs from the outset, and his credentials are unquestioned.

Rugby Union – 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour – Third Test – Australia v British and Irish Lions – ANZ Stadium
Alun Wyn Jones after the Lions beat 2013 Test series opponents Australia (David Davies/PA)

Recent proof of Jones’ durability and exceptional ability came after he suffered a knee injury during Wales’ Autumn Nations Cup game against Italy in December.

He was out for nine weeks, facing a race against time to be fit for Wales’ opening Six Nations appointment with Ireland in Cardiff, but not only did Jones recover to start that match, he performed like he had never been away in what was his comeback game, making a stamina-sapping 23 tackles.

Of his 157 Tests, 144 were starts, but it is perhaps Jones’ meticulous attitude to training and preparation that defines him.

And his recent signing of a new one-year contract with the Welsh Rugby Union and Ospreys suggest there are a fair few chapters still to unfold in his remarkable rugby story.

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