Wales’ most-capped international and quickly closing in on Richie McCaw’s global record, Alun Wyn Jones has long been the lynchpin of his country’s success, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Since making his international bow aged 20 against Argentina in 2006, the now 34-year-old has amassed 138 Test appearances for Wales and a further nine for the British & Irish Lions, putting him within touching distance of the New Zealand great’s total of 148.
And while still performing miracles as captain of Wayne Pivac’s side, Jones is firmly on the lookout for further success, having won three Grand Slam titles as it stands in 57 Guinness Six Nations appearances.
Further accolades include amassing 21 appearances at four Rugby World Cups and being part of three Lions tours, while in 2017 he became one of only seven players to have beaten South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in each of the three major southern hemisphere nations.
Add to that multiple domestic Championship titles for club side Ospreys and suddenly it’s not too difficult to see why many consider Jones the greatest to have ever donned the Welsh red.
Indeed, Neil Jenkins – the first man to achieve 1,000 points in Test rugby – said of him: “He has always wanted to be the best and strive to be the best, and over a long period he has achieved that.
“He seems to get better with age. Wales have had some incredible rugby players, and he is up there as one of the best, if not the best.”
With a combination of irrefutable leadership skills, exhaustive work rate, brilliant ball handling and controlled aggression, Jones is undoubtedly a worthy contender for the Greatest XV, and rightly deemed one of Europe’s top stars in the modern era.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Alun Wyn Jones.
MAKING THE GRADE
Born in Swansea, Jones got his first taste of rugby as a teenager at Bonymaen RFC and, as a quiet child but with towering height and huge desire, quickly made his mark.
Having progressed through the ranks at Swansea, and then Ospreys – and helped the Wales U21 side to the 2005 Grand Slam – full international honours followed for Jones a year later, then as a flanker alongside Alix Popham, who could sense star quality immediately.
Popham said: “He had a confidence about him. Most youngsters in a squad will keep their heads down and just try to take on board as much as possible.
“But he was prepared to speak up. If he was not agreeing with a certain defensive drill or there was a problem with the lineouts, he would let the right people know about it.”
By 2007, Jones was an ever-present in Wales’ Six Nations side – starting all five games in the second row as a disappointing campaign saw them come fifth – before a World Cup call beckoned later that year.
Despite falling at the pool stage in France, the arrival of Warren Gatland at the helm of the national side sparked a return to success, with Jones making three appearances during the 2008 Grand Slam-winning series.
SECOND GRAND SLAM
While Wales were unable to defend their title in 2009, the Championship was particularly poignant for Jones, who became the team’s 129th captain when he led the side against Italy in Rome – the first of 37 times as it stands.
His dominant performances in the Wales pack earned Jones a maiden call-up to the 2009 Lions squad for the tour to South Africa, where he played in all three Tests as Ian McGeechan’s charges ultimately came unstuck 2-1.
Wales continued to struggle in the Six Nations in 2010, but back in Swansea Jones had multiple causes for celebration, graduating from Swansea University with a degree in law and capping off his latest domestic title by being named Ospreys club captain.
A run to the World Cup semi-finals followed in 2011 after a fourth-place finish in the Six Nations, but success wasn’t too far away.
Despite injury hampering his contribution at the start of the series, Jones returned to start Wales’ final three matches as Gatland’s men wrapped up their second Grand Slam in five years in 2012.
And a year later, Wales successfully defended their title, and though Jones’ contribution was again limited by injury, legendary winger Shane Williams was in no doubt of his value in the team.
Speaking after the Championship, he said: “He’s so committed to playing rugby – even if he broke his leg he’d still carry on playing. That’s the kind of person he is.
“He just wants to be on that field and he just wanted to be part of this Six Nations. He’s an incredible player, a future [Wales] captain [and] I think an outside dark horse for captain of the Lions.”
PLAYER OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP
While Sam Warburton was ultimately selected as captain for the Lions’ tour to Australia in 2013, Jones took on the role in his fellow countryman’s absence for the decisive third Test, leading his team to their first series win in 16 years.
Wales could only muster third-place Six Nations finishes in 2014 and 2015, before a quarter-final exit at the 2015 World Cup, while England claimed the Grand Slam a year on.
Then a veteran of 105 caps, Jones was handed the Wales captaincy ahead of the 2017 Six Nations, but – after another telling contribution as the Lions drew their latest series 1-1 in New Zealand – he was made to wait two years to get his hands on more silverware.
Jones capped his third Grand Slam by being crowned the 2019 Player of the Championship, having typically led from the front – whether it was inspiring a charge to victory or marshalling a defensive wall.
At full-time of their Round 5, 25-7 win over Ireland, he said: “Anything can happen when you work hard and you’re a proud nation and we’ve shown that, and we like to think there’s still potential in us.”
Again, World Cup glory evaded Wales in 2019, but Jones and his team returned to Championship action earlier this year – now under the tutelage of Pivac – and will be looking for a strong finish to a disappointing campaign when the competition resumes later this year.
Having signed a contract with Ospreys until 2021 last year there are no signs of Jones’ career winding down just yet, and with McCaw’s caps record and a Lions tour to South Africa in his sights, expect the Wales legend to keep breaking barriers for the foreseeable future.