Venerable warhorse Jones ready to lead from the front again
World’s most-capped player a vital influence for a struggling Welsh side in transition
Alun Wyn Jones: one of a small group to have won three Grand Slams for Wales during a long and outstanding career. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
At 35-years-old, the look, the years, suggest he is that warhorse. His 15th season with Wales and warhorse may seem needlessly pejorative. Venerable warhorse. Then again, Alun Wyn Jones won his 100th cap back in 2015 against South Africa in the World Cup. Warhorse seems appropriate.
This is his fifth season as Welsh captain too and again the secondrow is on the comeback trail after injuring his knee against Italy in December. He says he’s good to go. We’ll know the veracity of that when he runs onto the park in Cardiff on Sunday.
Jones’ sense of optimism about being fit to face Ireland has been music to the ears of coach Wayne Pivac. The New Zealander is now officially, after taking up the job in 2019, “an under pressure coach”.
From the squad selection, with names like Ken Owens, Dan Lydiate and Rhodri Jones back, Pivac’s thinking this year appears to have an element of belts and braces. Although with 13 in the 36-man squad on 20 caps or less, his captain is a key instrument in adding ballast and a sense of order to the team.
“I’ve been running for two or three weeks and progressed really well,” said Jones at this season’s launch of the Six Nations.
“I’m back in training, so waiting for selection. Yeah. Look, I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in quite a few and I’m here again. For a number of years, people have put sell-by dates on certain things. “
Taking nothing for granted, Jones understands how these things roll and if Pivac does not have a strong Six Nations, he may not be the Welsh coach taking the team to the next World Cup.
In 2020, the Wales boss introduced playing changes with his only wins coming against Italy twice and Georgia. In that same time period, Wales lost seven matches and tumbled to ninth in the world rankings. It’s not the way the team would have wanted it to fall and now winning matches, as ever the case in the Six Nations, becomes as important as building towards a better future.
“We’re over 12 months into a change in regime and we’ve experienced a bit of everything. We’re in the midst of a very different scenario,” explained Jones. “ We saw a lot of new caps in the autumn campaign. With the strength in depth we developed in the Nations Cup, it’s arguably a watershed moment in the number of caps that were gained.
“You probably wouldn’t have seen that over two-and-a-half, three years previously. It had to be done and we took a bit of hurt doing that. But we have a squad now that’s exciting and excited to prove a point in this Six Nations. “
Alongside his captain, Pivac also explained how the Welsh squad had been working on their set piece, trying to perfect the platforms and make them more dependable. Jones figures in both scrums and lineouts as well as being a decision-maker and a motivator.
Considered one of the best lineout locks in Europe, his all round skill set puts him centre to most things in the Wales playbook. Given the poor form setting standards on the pitch is one of those old-fashioned things he does best.
Being the world’s most-capped Union player and Wales’ most capped international player also brings currency, with Jones one of a small group of Welsh players to have won three Grand Slams.
It was in September 2019, in their match against Australia at the World Cup, he became Wales’ most-capped player, overtaking the record of 129 caps held by Gethin Jenkins.
The following year. in October, Jones equalled All Black Richie McCaw’s record for the most international appearances in world rugby, 148 caps, during Wales’ 38-21 loss to France and the same month became the most capped international player of all time when he earned cap 149 against Scotland.
As recently as 2019 he was named the best player in the Six Nations Championship. While his age might be a factor to some, there is an element of horses for courses. With Wales in transition, the Jones savvy and hard-edged craft on the pitch adds even greater value than in the settled and dominating teams of his Grand Slam-winning years.
He has a law degree too and while that doesn’t make him a good speaker, the secondrow is an eloquent communicator. The Lions tour this summer if it goes ahead, may be a stretch, although his fitness and form over the coming weeks could convince Warren Gatland. Recently the bookies had him second favourite after Maro Itoje and before James Ryan to be selected.
Not bad for an ageing war horse.