When Alun Wyn Jones readied himself ahead of a landmark 200th appearance for the Ospreys back in 2016, he insisted: “Friday’s not just about me. Let’s not forget it’s also Jeff Hassler’s 50th.”
Deflecting plaudits while ensuring a team-mate gets credit for his own achievement — there’s so much to like about that quote, which captures the essence of a player people will be talking about 100 years from now.
This weekend is a big one for Jones is many respects.
When he takes the field to play against South Africa, he’ll become the first Lion to play in every Test in four consecutive series.
In that sense, he’ll be a man apart.
Jones will also draw level with Graham Price at the top of the Welsh appearance chart for the Lions. Like Price, all of his caps with the best of British and Irish rugby have been won consecutively.
Read more : The inside story of Alun Wyn Jones’ incredible Lions comeback
Where the two differ, aside from the fact Pricey’s 12 games came over three tours, not four, is that Jones will surely be aware of his feat.
When Price went beyond the old Welsh record of 10 for Lions Test appearances, jointly held by Gareth Edwards and the great lock RH Williams, he was blissfully unaware he had done anything special on the trek to New Zealand 38 years ago.
In a WalesOnline column earlier this summer, Price wrote: “Little secret here, I didn’t have a clue I held the Welsh record for the Lions until a couple of years afterwards. Certainly not when I was playing on that 1983 tour to New Zealand.
“I was the deputy manager at Cwmbran Town Shopping Centre at the time and I had a little break between meetings. To while away the minutes, I thought I’d pop into WH Smiths to take a look at some of the new rugby books coming out for Christmas.
“I was flicking through the Rothmans Rugby Yearbook which, in the days before the advent of the internet and Google, was the rugby journalist’s must-have record of who played where, when and how many times.
“I noticed my name in a list in the Lions section and realised that I’d broken the Test record for a Welsh player. I genuinely had no idea and thus noted with interest about how I’d apparently overtaken the previous record of 10 games held jointly by Gareth Edwards and Rhys Williams, who played second row during the 1950s.
“The overall record is 17 Tests, held by the legendary Irishman Willie John McBride.
“I was honestly none the wiser until I saw this about myself in Rothmans. Alun Wyn will definitely know about it when it happens, there will be wall- to-wall coverage, no doubt.”
Such is the modern world, with fanfare part of the deal for those who do anything noteworthy.
But if anyone deserves a nod it is Jones. He played in the three Tests versus South Africa in 2009, the three against Australia in 2013, three more in New Zealand last time out and this weekend will make it three with the Lions Class of 2021.
Alun Wyn Jones’ match jersey ahead of the Lions’ game with Japan
(Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Maybe his finest hour as a Lion to date came in 2013 when he took over the captaincy for the final Test after Sam Warburton was injured. Amid a fully-fledged, wall-to-wall rumpus over Brian O’Driscoll’s omission from the team, the Wales second row led the tourists to a 41-16 success, with his personal performance and leadership that day outstanding.
His longevity continues to be a thing of wonder.
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Almost certainly, though, this weekend will be the 35-year-old’s last outing as a Test Lion.
It has been some ride, but he hasn’t changed that much over the years.
Certain things still matter hugely to him.
Last autumn, after he set a world record for Test appearances, one of his boyhood coaches from Bonymaen RFC, Kevin Brooks, told a nice story to the BBC that said much about Jones.
“Loyalty is something important to Alun Wyn and he has never forgotten his roots,” said Brooks.
“I was fortunate to be there in the ground in Sydney on the night when he captained the Lions to that memorable third Test series win.
“I had made a Welsh flag with the Bonymaen badge and name written on it. It has travelled with us on the Lions trips to New Zealand and South Africa in 2005 and 2009 and was with us in Australia.
“In the Olympic stadium in Sydney the Lions players were walking around the pitch after the match doing a traditional lap of honour and thanking the crowd. Alun Wyn spotted me and saw the flag and gestured if he could have it.
“Without hesitation I threw it to him and he wrapped it around himself and poetically walked off into the Sydney floodlights.
“That was something else. I thought he would get in the changing room, put the flag in the corner and it would be a fitting finale.
“Some months later he phoned me and asked if I wanted the flag back. He had taken the time to put it back in his kit bag and travel 12,000 miles with it. What a guy to do that. I was overwhelmed with the gesture and still have the flag upstairs.”
Little things matter.
But those Lions landmarks are big achievements indeed.
It’s only right that Jones won’t have to wait to read about them in a book when he returns home.
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