Alun Wyn Jones has opened up on the “surreal” experience of captaining the Lions against the Springboks less than a month after dislocating his shoulder.
When the Wales skipper suffered his injury in the warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, it seemed his dream of leading the Lions in South Africa had been shattered.
But he staged a remarkable recovery, enabling him to join up with the squad last week and return to action as a replacement against the Stormers.
Now he has been chosen to captain Warren Gatland’s team in Saturday’s first Test versus the ‘Boks in Cape Town.
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Asked to explain the emotions he went through following his body blow in Edinburgh, he said: “I can’t swear on here, so I won’t go into too much detail!
“I think I was at home on the sofa before the guys had even got to the airport on the Sunday, so that was a tough one.
“I’d spent two weeks with the guys, getting to know people. We had bedded in on the rugby side.
“I had the seven minutes against Japan and then, for the next two days, that was my tour done.
“But fast forward then to the Tuesday when I had the decent news and was told there was a chance. It was bordering on surreal.
“There weren’t many thoughts I could probably share with you.
“It was a quick couple of phone calls to get all the apparatus I needed to start the recovery the next day.
“I made sure I didn’t dwell on the situation for too long.
“It was about being proactive, starting the recovery, that’s what I did and I guess that’s why I’m here
“Sometimes all you need is a chance and I was willing to work hard to make myself available for selection and make it difficult for Gats.
“It wasn’t just me. There was a lot of help back home. I have had a lot of support.
“A lot of planning was put in place with regards to the shoulder itself.”
Reflecting on the past week, he said: “It’s been pretty whistle-stop for me, since I spoke to Gats and some of the management about being involved last Saturday literally off the plane.
“I was fortunate enough to get the game-time and put myself in contention. It is everything I’ve worked for over the last four years.
“To be sitting here now is a very, very special thing.
“To be here, taking the knocks and bumps and being in among the group, it means more. I’m not going to lie.”
On the challenge that’s now in store, Jones said: “I’m looking forward to it.
“I think there’s a few guys with questions for Gats whether there’s a Test cap involved from the session we had yesterday!
“The message I gave to the squad when we first met up at the Lensbury in May was we’ve come to win a Test series
“We have a squad and side capable to get the ball rolling.
“You want to get out of the blocks.
“It’s our opportunity to do that on the weekend.
“We’ve seen the rugby we’ve been able to play and produce across the games leading up to this week.
“The big thing is going to be composure.
“We’re going to be in an arm wrestle, there is going to be territory battle. There’s going to be a lot of emotion involved.”
Head coach Gatland revealed the management team had discussed whether to start Jones in the first Test or keep him in reserve off the bench, given his limited recent game-time.
“When the decision was made that we were going to go with Ali Price at 9 (ahead of Conor Murray), we felt we really needed Alun Wyn’s leadership and experience in terms of starting in the second row,” he said.
“That’s pretty important for us and it’s a great boost to the squad and everyone to have him back.
“It’s been a brilliant recovery by him to make himself available again.
He had some time on the pitch the other day. So it’s fantastic.”
Four-times tourist Jones will become the first player in the professional era to play 10 Lions Tests.
Asked what that says about him, Gatland quipped: “That he’s old!
“He’s been around a while.
“It’s a fantastic achievement for anyone to play 10.
“It shows what he’s been as a player.
“To see someone who was desperate to get back and rehab and be out here to represent the Lions again, it shows a lot about him as a person but also what the Lions means to Alun Wyn and to everybody.”
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