Some time this autumn Alun Wyn Jones is likely to break Sam Warburton’s record for captaining Wales the most times.
Warburton did the job on 49 occasions.
Jones has worn his country’s armband 47 times, according to the Welsh Rugby Union’s records people.
He has been some leader.
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Back in his teenage days with Swansea this writer had cause to ring him for a feature for the old Saturday night green ’un, The Sporting Post, on his development as an up-and-coming young player.
Within a minute of our conversation realisation set in that this was no ordinary teenager.
The individual on the other end of the phone was wary — nothing wildly unusual there for an 18-year-old not used to dealing with the press — but he also spoke with an authority that belied his years. He challenged and argued. He was extraordinarily mature. You came off the phone thinking the kid would either quickly come crashing down to earth on encountering the harsh reality of senior Welsh rugby or go on to become a Wales captain.
History tells us what happened.
Jones has been leading Wales on an off for the past 12 years. It has been some achievement from the lock.
Trying to capture his essence as a skipper isn’t easy.
Maybe the final seconds of the Wales v Ireland encounter in 2019 do the job. The story will be familiar to most. Wales were 25-0 up and assured of the Grand Slam, only for Ireland to score a late try through Jordan Larmour. The clock was in the red, but Jones still led a charge of Welsh players at Jack Carty as he attempted the conversion.
In Ross Harries’ wonderful book Behind the Dragon, Playing Rugby For Wales, Jonathan Davies, the centre, says of the final moments of the Irish game: “I was genuinely gutted we didn’t nil them.
“I lunged at Larmour, and I was really annoyed when he snuck over. Then I saw all the boys lining up to try to charge down the conversion, and thought: ‘Ah, sod that, I’m ready to celebrate.’”
But Jones wasn’t ready to throw his hands in the air in triumph. As Josh Navidi recalls: “Alun Wyn made a point of telling us all: ‘Don’t celebrate yet. Make sure we all line up and chase this kick.’”
It suggested an almost New Zealand-like mentality.
Jones had set the tone that day with his pre-match address to his fellow players. His speeches before games can sometimes be technical, which is no bad thing, but before the Slam encounter in 2019 he loaded emotion into his words.
In Behind the Dragon, Rob Evans recalls: “Alun Wyn’s last words were: ‘Remember your families are watching, remember your dads are watching.
“‘Mine won’t be here to watch, so make sure you go out there and do your dads proud.
“We all knew Alun Wyn’s dad had passed away (in 2016), so that was a big moment, we all got a bit emotional. We’d have run through a f*****g wall for him after that.’”
Evans continues: “When he speaks everyone listens. He’s just a f*****g great bloke. Probably the greatest player Wales have ever had.”
After the Ireland game there’s an iconic picture of Jones looking to the heavens as rain pours down. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to believe at the point of one of his greatest rugby triumphs he might be thinking about his late dad, Tim, a man who took pride in everything his son did.
When Jones eventually finishes — and there doesn’t seem likely to be any news on that front for a while yet — he will be remembered by many as his country’s greatest captain, someone who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk.
He’ll never lose his feisty edge.
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And, until it’s all over, he’ll carry setting sky-high standards in terms of his preparations as a player.
Only last year, after he started as Ospreys head coach, Toby Booth wondered if Jones was trying to make an impression on him given the ferocious effort he put in during the first week of training.
But the region’s back-room staff quickly assured him that’s how the big man did things. That’s the way he trained. Every time.
As Ray Kroc, the man who built the McDonald’s fast-food empire, once said: “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”
One day, of course, it will all have to run its course.
But not yet.
For that, Wayne Pivac and Toby Booth will be as pleased as anyone.