Record breaking Wales and Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones has been at the sharp end of rugby for 15 years, winning 160 Test caps to date and showing no sign of slowing up as he prepares to lead Wayne Pivac’s team into autumn battle against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
With his 36th birthday approaching this weekend, he has put his many achievements into words in an autobiography ‘ Belonging, Alun Wyn Jones ‘ which is published this week.
Perhaps in fitting with Alun Wyn’s character, it is not what you would dub a controversial book. For example, he chooses not to address the high profile incidents involving Joe Marler and Jake Ball, which captured so many headlines in recent times.
Marler was banned after grabbing Alun Wyn’s testicles during an England v Wales game, while the skipper was involved in a training ground fight with team-mate Jake Ball during last season’s Six Nations triumph.
READ MORE: Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball fight footage emerges
READ MORE: Joe Marler banned for grabbing Alun Wyn’s testicles
There is also no mention of the Rob Howley betting scandal and how it affected the players when Warren Gatland’s trusted number two was sent home from the World Cup in disgrace.
Alun Wyn comes across as a very private man and in general there are plaudits, rather than criticism, of individuals he has played with and against.
But as a player and captain right at the coalface of Wales’ greatest achievements over the past decade or so, the captain more than anybody else has been there, seen it and done it.
Here are some of the more interesting matters he addresses in the book….
The ‘uncomfortable’ comparisons to the great McCaw
Alun Wyn equalled and then broke New Zealand legend Richie McCaw’s world caps record last autumn when playing first against against France in a friendly, then Scotland in the postponed Six Nations clash at Parc y Scarlets.
He has since gone on to smash McCaw’s tally.
But while Alun Wyn talks of being ‘intensely proud deep down’, his over-riding emotions at the time were ‘immense disappointment that we lost’.
Wales were beaten 38-21 by France in Paris and 14-10 at home to the Scots the following week when Alun Wyn reached the landmark. It was the first home defeat to the Scots in almost two decades.
That loss, coupled with Covid restrictions which made things feel a little unreal at the time, led to Alun Wyn’s somewhat negative response when arriving home to a bottle of champagne his wife Anwen had bought to celebrate the special moment.
“I looked at her as I walked in the door and said ‘Yep shall we leave it until tomorrow.’ A tense evening that one,” he writes.
“I know what you’re thinking. Stubborn. And you’d be right in many ways.”
Alun Wyn says he was grateful to the Welsh Rugby Union presenting him with an engraved watch with 149 on the back, his team-mates providing him with a case of Patagonian wine to commemorate his first cap in Argentina in 2006 and the messages of support from players past and present – including McCaw himself.
But he stresses: “I wasn’t comfortable with any of the comparisons with McCaw. He has two World Cups. I don’t. I’ve got those holes in my CV, and then I’d lost the Scotland game too.”
Previously Wales hadn’t lost at home to Scotland since 2002 and as such the skipper “didn’t want to do a presentation on the pitch, smiling and waving a bottle around having been beaten at home.”
Nor did he open the wine from team-mates, nor the bottle of whisky the WRU had also given him, in the dressing room afterwards.
“My skin crawls at the idea of me elevating myself above the team. I felt a greater satisfaction in the combination of my Welsh caps and going past 240 appearances for the Ospreys,” he points out.
“You strip it back and rugby is a job. No-one counts how many kitchens a carpenter has fitted, or tells a plumber he should pack it in when he’s done a certain number of bathrooms. Keep working, keep trying to improve.
“You can tart anything up with numbers. Someone told me I’ve played in almost 20 per cent of Wales’ total international matches. But I’ve never beaten the All Blacks, never won the World Cup, so it doesn’t matter. I’d far rather have won a World Cup than be record caps holder.”
The Gatland ‘look’ at skipper after booze session
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly there is barely a mention of current Wales boss Wayne Pivac in the book, but there is plenty on Warren Gatland who helped shape Alun Wyn’s career and gave him the Welsh and Lions captaincy.
The two men clearly have the utmost respect for one another, which is probably just as well as Alun Wyn and five unnamed Wales team-mates went on a booze session just before the 2019 World Cup in Japan – and noticed a ‘look’ from Gatland as they walked back in.
Alun Wyn explains ‘the big afternoon out’ came when they had moved to Turkey for a second pre-tournament training camp, having previously been based in Switzerland.
The six players had been given time off training and felt they needed a release.
“Enjoying the freedom to be a different version of you for a few short hours. And Warren Gatland and the coaches were phlegmatic about it when the six of us rolled home. A look that said you’re old enough to know better, but boys will be boys.”
It was too early to affect anything that happened out in Japan as Wales went out in the semi-finals to eventual champions South Africa.
Pick your greatest Wales XV now
Lions despair after last-gasp Springboks defeat
Alun Wyn goes into forensic detail of what he had to do to make that remarkable recovery from a shoulder injury to lead the Lions in South Africa this summer.
He outlines the incredible behind the scenes rehab work he had to put in morning, noon and night, details conversations with doctors which were surprisingly upbeat after initial fears he had dislocated the shoulder and explains his joy at returning for the three Tests.
The Lions won the first after the skipper’s bold call to kick for a lineout which led to Luke Cowan -Dickie’s decisive try. He explains the disappointment of being thumped 27-9 in the second Test and the agony of losing to a Morne Steyn kick near the end in the tense decider.
It was then that everything came to a head and he reflected upon the enormous individual effort put in just to get out to South Africa.
Gathering team-mates into a huddle Alun Wyn thanked them for their support and told those who will be with the Lions again in Australia in 2025 to make sure they go out and win next time.
“I didn’t expect my emotions would come flooding out, thought I’d gone through it in the struggle to make it back out on tour,” he says. “Then I was asked in the TV interview about it being my last Lions match and I realised the finality of it.
“I thought in those quiet moments afterwards of how much I had given to get back on tour. The reintegration, relentless efforts in training. I thought I did that to win the series, not to take part.
“You ask yourself questions that have no answers. Should I have stood up to this, could I have said something else here. A decision that came off, another gamble that didn’t. Those two weeks of doing everything I did gave a new and different sheen to it. A longer way to fall.”
The day we silenced Twickenham
Alun Wyn details epic wins over old enemy England, but perhaps the best of the lot came in the World Cup group clash at Twickenham in 2015 when Wales triumphed 28-25.
Gatland’s men were shorn of a number of key players, Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Rhys Webb among them, and were roundly written off beforehand as they stepped into England’s own backyard for a Saturday night England versus Wales clash like no other.
Beforehand the dressing room message emphasised that Wales had won at Twickenham in 2008 and 2012 as outsiders and could do so again, whatever pundits were predicting.
When Dan Biggar kicked the winning penalty near the end, and Chris Robshaw’s infamous decision to go for the corner rather than the posts had backfired, Wales were triumphant.
Alun Wyn recalls the beautiful moment.
“It went so quiet in the stands at the end. Us hugging, celebrating maybe more than we should have been for a group game that didn’t even guarantee we were going through, but a reflection of the rubbish that had gone before. What we’d been told was going to happen by everyone outside the camp; what actually had.”
Belonging, Alun Wyn Jones is published by Pan Macmillan and is priced at £20. It is available in good bookshops
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