It’s a funny twist of fate that Wyn Jones saw more Lions fans when he was making his Wales debut than he will when he makes his actual Lions bow this Saturday.
When the Llandovery-born prop first pulled on that coveted jersey against Tonga in Auckland back in 2017, the city itself was preparing itself for the visit of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions a week later.
Fast forward and Cape Town isn’t exactly buzzing with anticipation for the arrival of the tourists. It’s somewhat hard, given the Covid-19 restrictions in South Africa that have made this a tour unlike any before it.
“I remember going out for a meal in Auckland and seeing a sea of red everywhere,” says Jones as he reminisces about four years ago.
“The Lions supporters were in every bar and restaurant you could look at. The following was unbelievable and as a player you always want to be involved in those scenarios.
“The stadiums in New Zealand probably had more red than black in.
“Sadly this time around it’s not quite the same like that but we are fortunate to have plenty of support from back home. The games are not quite the same but you still have the same pressure of trying to win a series.
“It is very different but as a squad it has brought us closer together. Being in the hotel most of the time all together with the boys mingling.
“We get on really well as a squad and because of Covid we are probably closer than we would have been if not for Covid so that is definitely one strength.”
Going back to his Welsh debut, Jones was certainly closer to the Lions than most home nations summer tourists would normally be.
But, as he watched on, so close and yet so far, the idea of being part of that exclusive group four years later wasn’t one that had formed.
“Yeah, we definitely kept an eye out, we watched all the games in the team room.
“A lot of friends were on that tour, from the club, and we were just supporters, I suppose, supporting them.
“I probably didn’t think too much about playing for the Lions myself, back then.
“I was just focused on getting my first Welsh cap and going on from there. As any player, you want to play the highest standard that you can and being on a Lions tour, you can’t get higher than that.
“To be picked to play in the first Test is a massive honour and something I – looking back four years ago – something I wouldn’t have dreamt of.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Jones hadn’t looked to the Lions as an attainable goal four years ago.
A year further back and he was turning out for hometown club Llandovery in the Welsh Premiership.
At one point, both he and fellow Lion Tadhg Beirne were plying their trade for Drovers at Church Bank.
It’s been some journey since.
“It has been a whirlwind and I have not had much time to think about it,” he says.
“I have enjoyed it in every team we have played in and taken every step as it comes.
“I have just tried to take every opportunity as they present themselves. Both me and Tadgh probably did it the old school, a different way I suppose through club regional then country.
“Everybody is a bit different and I am just proud of the way I have managed to do it.”
And after a “nerve-racking team meeting” where Gatland revealed his Test team, Jones is set for the biggest match of his career.
Taking on the world champion Springboks and their daunting pack is something, Jones admits, “that as a front-row forward you relish” – with the challenge of getting one over their scrum as enticing as the 29-year-old could wish to find on the Test stage.
“They are a good pack, they are a big, heavy pack who scrummage as an eight and they probably won the World Cup because of their set-piece and line out, it is a challenge for us and something we are really looking forward to you,” he added.
“The thing with the scrum, especially against the Springboks is you have got to get every one right, if you get one wrong they do punish you.
“From my end I will just be looking after our scrum, making sure we get things right and making sure we don’t let them get a foothold in the game.
“They are fully committed as an eight and there are no easy scrums. It is one to eight knowing their roles and that is probably what made them the best in the world.
“In these big games everyone steps up their game, they are world champions for nothing. They won the World Cup, they are the best team in the world and you want to challenge yourself against the best.
“Saturday is a great opportunity for us as a team and it just makes the occasion even better.”