Alun Wyn Jones: Leader, legend, lock of a lifetime


“Thank you mate. I love you.”

In six small words, Jonathan Davies spoke for an entire country.

The final whistle had just been blown at Principality Stadium and Wales had secured a Grand Slam – clinically disposing of Ireland in Warren Gatland’s final Guinness Six Nations game in charge.

But while Gatland’s influence on this side is beyond doubt – it was not to his head coach that Davies was directing his affection amidst the maelstrom of Cardiff celebrations.

Instead, Davies only had eyes for one man. Alun Wyn Jones. Leader, legend, and lock of a lifetime for Wales.

In that one intimate moment, captured by the TV cameras, Davies encapsulated what Jones means to this team and to this nation.

The newly-crowned 2019 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship is approaching god-like status west of the Severn Bridge.

That Davies – a two-time British & Irish Lion no less, himself man of the series in New Zealand two summers ago and also a Welsh Test captain – should have such love, respect, deference and above all gratitude for Jones shows you how he is held up by his teammates.

The freedom of Swansea soon followed for the Ospreys second row and the accolades keep on coming.

The most capped lock in the history of Test rugby, he will be eyeing Richie McCaw’s world record before too long.

The only man in the professional era to appear in nine successive Tests for the Lions, a return to South Africa in 2021 is not off the table.

Currently captaining a Wales side on a national record of 14 Tests won in a row, they could break Cyprus’ 24-Test world record at a certain final in Japan later this year….

But the record books are never enough to explain a player like Jones.

He may not score many tries, none in his last 27 Tests and only nine in his 136-Test career, he seldom breaks the line with his carries or even tops the tackle count.

But headline statistics are not for Jones. His is a career built largely on the top two inches.

A leader who knows how to win over his teammates, how to win over a referee and most importantly how to win a match.

You don’t end up with a trophy cabinet and career CV like Jones’ without knowing how to get over the line.

He leads by example, the first to hit the tackle bag in training, the first to temper celebrations and bring his teammates’ focus back to the here and now, the first to shake an opponents’ hand after the final whistle.

But leaders like Jones, despite what some people may believe, are made not born.

It was not always this way for Jones.

Indeed it took Gatland a while to warm to the lock who, while undoubtedly influential from the start of his international career, had to learn to refine and re-channel his emotions.

That raw passion had always been evident since he broke through at Bonymaen RFC as a kid, soon graduating from Swansea to the Ospreys – where he has stayed ever since.

But with red on his chest, the red mist was sometimes quick to descend, and Gatland opted for the cooler, calmer leadership of Sam Warburton for much of his Welsh tenure.

A trip on Dylan Hartley and a yellow card against England in 2010 cost Wales dear and saw Gatland publicly reprimand the lock.

But even back then, Jones was already a Test Lion and leader in all but name.

Warburton worked his magic at the breakdown and on referees, but Jones was the one at the coalface, the man of emotion and the beating heart of this Wales side.

“Alun Wyn has matured gracefully,” says Gatland.

“He is in a really good place at the moment and he has done a fantastic job this year leading the team. He is pretty valuable.”

By 2013, Gatland had seen fit to make Jones captain of his Lions team for the third and final Test against the Wallabies.

With Warburton injured, Jones’ fire and brimstone helped carry the Lions to a titanic Test win – ending a 16-year wait for a series victory.

By now, Jones had also graduated from Swansea University with a part-time law degree, had met his wife Anwen and truly clicked as a player and as a leader.

It was Rob Howley who made Jones captain of Wales permanently in 2017 – while Gatland was on Lions sabbatical – and it appeared to take Jones to an even higher level.

Their historic unbeaten run began in last year’s Guinness Six Nations, stretched over the summer and the autumn and came to fruition in this year’s Championship.

There are so many classic Jones moments across the 2019 Championship that we could be here all night listing them.

The handshake with Baptiste Serin while celebrations flared around him Paris after the comeback of all comebacks in Round One springs to mind.

Or the way he came off the bench to get Wales over the line after a second-half wobble in Rome.

What about his eye-popping celebration at the final whistle in Round Three as England were sent packing?

But he saved his best for last, the masterclass in Cardiff.

Wrapping a shivering mascot in his training jacket was just the start.

Jones wasn’t feeling the rain before kick-off, and moments into the match it appeared he couldn’t feel pain either.

Save for one cry out when he twisted his knee at a ruck, Jones was soon waving away the physios and back to his bruising best in the downpour.

He tackled everything that moved in the second half, then put his finger to his temple and tapped, eyeballing each and every one of his teammates to remind them to keep their focus at the death.

Then the fireworks went off, and the champagne flowed, but Jones still had time for his head coach Gatland and a handshake.

Davies was showering his captain with love, but the lock was soon off with his wife and daughters taking it all in.

The Player of the Championship trophy is the icing on the cake, one can only hope the engraver remembered his surname is Jones, rather than Wyn Jones.

Few will be forgetting it after this year…

And then it is on to the World Cup and before you know it the 2020 Championship will be here.

Wayne Pivac will need to follow Davies’ suit, and start piling on the love to keep the main man around.