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British and Irish Lions 2021: Captain Alun Wyn Jones reflects on 'surreal' return

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Published in Rugby
Wednesday, 21 July 2021 07:44

For a few days Alun Wyn Jones thought his British and Irish Lions tour was over before it had properly begun.

But he is no ordinary rugby player. Just four weeks after dislocating his shoulder, the 35-year-old has recovered in time to captain the British and Irish Lions for the start of a Test series against South Africa.

Lazarus or Miracle Man? Take your pick. Those are just some of the names coined for Jones' remarkable recovery over the last month.

Whatever your preference, he is now officially back and ready to lead the Lions into action against the Springboks.

"To be here now means more, I'm not going to lie," said Jones.

"Being involved in the Test team is everything I have worked for probably over the last four years.

"When you finish a series or a tour you don't know whether you are going to tour next time and a lot of games go under the bridge.

"To be sitting here now is a special thing but it is only a short step to what is going to be hopefully an enjoyable week."

This scenario seemed impossible just 25 days ago. Jones cut a sorry figure when he left the field against Japan at Murrayfield in the eighth minute.

The tour of this Wales warrior seemed over. His dream of leading the Lions in a Test series as the official captain appeared to have vanished as he made his way home to Wales while the touring party flew to South Africa, with Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray handed the leadership reins.

"I think I was at home on the sofa before the guys had even got to the airport on the Sunday," said Jones.

"That was a tough one. I spent the first few weeks getting to know the guys, we were bedded in the rugby. I had the seven minutes and for two days, that was my tour done."

But never say never. Especially when you are talking about the world's most capped player as he was given a glimmer of hope by medics back in Wales.

"Fast forward to the Tuesday, when I was told the decent news there was a chance (of returning), it was bordering on surreal," said Jones.

"Sometimes all you need is a chance. I was willing to work hard and get myself right, and make it difficult for Warren and be available for selection.

"There were a quick couple of calls to get all the apparatus I needed to start the recovery the next day and make sure I didn't dwell on that situation.

"It was about being pro-active and starting the recovery. That's what I did and I guess why I'm here.

"It was not just me. There was a lot of help back home. I had a lot of support and a lot of planning was put in place from here."

Gatland announced early on in the tour Jones' dramatic return might be possible and last week it became a reality after Jones had been training with Wales.

He flew into South Africa on Thursday morning, was immediately named as a replacement to face the Stormers just 48 hours later before coming through a 26-minute appearance in the 49-3 victory to prove his fitness.

"It has been pretty whistle stop for me since I spoke to Gats (Warren Gatland) and some of the management about being involved on Saturday," added Jones.

"We hadn't really gone that far because the timelines had moved forward a little bit. I was fortunate enough to get some game time on Saturday and put myself in contention."

Jones will become the first man to win 10 Lions Test caps in the professional era having been involved in every international on the last three tours of South Africa (2009), Australia (2013) and New Zealand (2017).

His experience will be invaluable this week and his message will be simple.

"It's very basic," said Jones.

"When you get to this level, and with the calibre of players we have, it doesn't have to be over-complicated.

"You've seen the rugby we've been able to produce across the games this week. A big thing is going to be composure, we're going to be in an arm wrestle. There will be a lot of emotion involved.

"The calibre of player and simplistic nature of that approach is what I've used in previous teams and with Wales in the past. I'll continue in a similar vein.

"I have done enough Six Nations launches and the word momentum comes out at every one. It is exactly the same in this series.

"You want to get out of the blocks as much as the opposition and it is our opportunity to do that at the weekend.

"We set out to come and win a Test series. I think we have a squad here capable of doing just that."

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