By Paul Eddison
Alun Wyn Jones’ decision to retire from Test rugby months out from a World Cup might have shocked a few but Gareth Thomas believes the move should not have any effect on how his career is viewed.
With 170 caps for Wales and the British & Irish Lions, Jones is the most capped rugby player of all time, and looked like he would appear at a fifth Rugby World Cup after being initially selected in Wales’ wider training squad.
But like Ospreys teammates Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb, Jones decided to call time on his international career – a decision that former Wales skipper Thomas completely understands.
He said: “It is quite unusual (to have players retire so close to the World Cup). But for me, somebody who has retired from that level, it’s all about when you are ready. You cannot write it in stone and whenever you are ready, for whatever reason, it’s your choice and your decision to make.
“All I hope is that those three players, who have given such great moments and played with such pride in their national jersey, that they are not remembered for when they retired, or defined by it. I want them to be remembered and defined by what they did on the field because that far outweighs anything that could overshadow their commitment to the jersey.”
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The retirement of three long-time contributors, along with the decision to drop Rhys Carré from the squad for failing to meet performance targets has raised some eyebrows about Wales’ preparations.
But for Thomas, who competed at four World Cups between 1995 and 2007, the next few months of preparation give the team the perfect opportunity to silence the doubters ahead of an opening match against Fiji in Bordeaux on September 10.
“There’s a sense of excitement,” added Thomas, who was speaking as part of his Tackle HIV Three Peaks challenge to demonstrate that living with HIV need not be a barrier to achieving anything, and to celebrate how far science and medicine have come in the last few decades.
“In the recent era, the World Cup has been a pinnacle in the sporting calendar and it has transcended rugby. Everybody who is interested in sport and not even interested in sport, is attracted by the World Cup and the excitement and what it brings. To be a part of it is really special.
“There are certain great players who played in one or two World Cups and achieved so much outside of it but didn’t achieve that much in the World Cup, so we realise that it is the making or breaking of great players or legends. So if I were part of the Wales squad now in the build-up, I’d be really excited at the possibility of being part of something great because it’s so unexpected.
“Everybody has quite conveniently written Wales off for their past performances and probably rightly so with the change of coach at such a close period, the retirement of big names, big players. But it gives other players the opportunity to come in and fill those boots. It’s not ideal timing but I feel if I were a Welsh player now in that squad, I’d be really excited at the possibility of showing the world what I, and we as a team, are capable of when we are in the biggest showcase of the sport.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv