Alun Wyn Jones: Wales captain focuses on World Cup quest

Alun Wyn Jones looks to the heavens after Wales defeated Ireland in the 2019 Six Nations
Alun Wyn Jones looks to the heavens after Wales defeated Ireland in the 2019 Six Nations

It has been a good 12 months in international rugby for Wales.

They are unbeaten in 14 games, Six Nations Grand Slam champions and are number two in World Rugby's rankings.

But captain Alun Wyn Jones knows history will not judge Wales on that.

It is World Cup year and, according to the 33-year-old: "There is only one thing this year is going to be remembered for.

"Even through the Six Nations you have that in the back of your mind, although that takes away nothing from the achievement."

The skipper hopes a third Grand Slam since Warren Gatland took over in 2008 is just the start of success in 2019.

"We have put foundations in for what will hopefully be a decent year," said Jones.

"You enjoy success but have to move on and it has been almost a month now. We were pleased with the outcomes and character of the performances, but there is potential to improve.

"Our feet did not touch the ground for a couple of days, we had a lot of well-wishes and people are still congratulating us.

"As we move away from the Six Nations and towards the summer, the expectation will be there more than ever and we have earned that."

Captain Alun Wyn Jones holds the Six Nations trophy
Alun Wyn Jones made his Wales debut against Argentina in 2006

Grand Slam memories

Not considered overly sentimental, Jones has had some time to reflect because he has not played since the final Six Nations victory over Ireland.

After overcoming an early knee injury in that match, Jones finished the game before being diagnosed with ligament damage that will sideline him for up to six weeks.

"I was lucky because it could have been worse," said Jones, who is hopeful of a return for the Ospreys' final game of the regular season against Cardiff Blues on 27 April.

"My wife will tell you I am going soft. I only felt it once in the first half and the medics did a decent tape job at half-time and I went on.

"Most of the boys were carrying niggles so you crack on and I was fortunate to finish the game."

Playing through the pain and other moments on that special day elevated public affection towards Jones, which had already increased after his iconic post-match celebration against England.

Jones' decision to place his tracksuit around the freezing mascot during the anthem also became a social media hit.

"He was shaking, but it is a fact of society now everyone makes a fuss of something anybody would do," said Jones.

"I am confident any of the boys would have done the same thing."

There was also unseen work in ensuring the whole squad celebrated on the podium and Jonathan Davies telling Jones he "loved" him after the final whistle.

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Scrum V Podcast caught up with Jon 'Fox' Davies and chatted about that Grand Slam

Personal reflections included looking up to the heavens straight into the rain after the final whistle and spending time afterwards sitting in an empty stadium to take in what had been achieved.

As Jones was celebrating on the field with his two daughters, he was also thinking of his father Tim, who passed away in November, 2016.

"He was in my thoughts," said Jones.

"I am always cautious of being a champion of emotion for the wrong reasons. I don't do many interviews like this and try to stay away from being another guy talking about a loved one.

"It is a fine line, but it did bring up memories and a lot of friends and family said, 'your dad would have been proud'."

Peak powers

The Six Nations player of the tournament accolade followed, proving Jones' stock in the world game has never been higher in a stellar career of 125 Wales caps and nine Tests for the British and Irish Lions.

Jones can now start to be talked about in the same bracket as legendary Lions lock leaders such as Willie John McBride, Martin Johnson and Paul O'Connell.

Former fly-half and captain Jonathan Davies labelled Jones Wales' best ever player, while England's World Cup-winning centre Will Greenwood said the lock was the leading northern hemisphere player of the 21st century.

His old Ospreys coach Sean Holley joked he should be the next First Minister of Wales, while Jones has been given the freedom of his home city Swansea.

While accolades have flooded in, all the praise is not something you sense Jones is comfortable with.

"When I was running around as a kid playing for Mumbles and Bonymaen, I was not thinking of things like that," said Jones.

"My initial reaction is it starts all over again. It is a lot easier to get motivated when people are having a dig.

"When people say nice things it puts on a different kind of pressure.

"It is flattering in whatever trade you are doing if somebody says you are doing a good job.

"I appreciate the comments, even if my resting face is not the most likeable at times, which is what people tell me. I can't help it. That is just me and I don't mean anything by it.

"I am clear the day I start enjoying things like that a bit too much is probably when I need to sit back and move on."

Alun Wyn Jones takes in what Wales achieved straight after Six Nations success over Ireland
Alun Wyn Jones takes in what Wales achieved straight after Six Nations success over Ireland

Senior statesman

As well as inspirational performances on the field, Jones has been unwittingly drawn into off-the-field matters.

In his role as part of the International Rugby Players Association, Jones has spoken on plans for World Rugby's proposals for the global game, which include a Nations Championship.

"The potential there, if it is done right, is exciting and intriguing, but the fearful thing for players is the welfare issue," said Jones.

"There are a lot of things to take into consideration, but players are keen to seek a solution because everybody wants to grow rugby - not at the expense of players' careers or the game's value because you don't want to lose the prestige of a World Cup.

"The main point is the IRPA and players' federations would like consultation because we are the people who play the game."

Closer to home, Jones helped the Wales squad cope with disruptive talk of regional mergers during the Six Nations, with a troubled build-up to the victory over Scotland.

Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Martyn Philips said afterwards he had apologised to the players for the off-field distractions, which ended with proposals for an Ospreys-Scarlets amalgamation shelved for 2019-20 at least.

"I don't think he needed to apologise and we all accepted it," said Jones.

"We have had face-to-face meetings since and been given some answers.

"As players we were able to get the job done. We were never going to use that as an excuse and our job was rugby, not boardroom stuff.

"It was just disappointing the situation ensured there was a delay in contracts being signed."

Alun Wyn Jones has made a record 236 appearances for the Ospreys
Alun Wyn Jones has made a record 236 appearances for the Ospreys

Future plans

Has this uncertainty affected Jones' decision about his future?

His national dual contract with the WRU and Ospreys finishes after the World Cup and that system has been replaced by new player pay banding proposals.

So is the one-region man considering staying in Wales or prompting for a new challenge?

"There are conversations going on and we will see what happens," said Jones.

"It is a big choice and there are lots of things to take into account. There has always been that curiosity about playing in a different league or country.

"I don't have any regrets in what I have done so far with hopefully a bit more to go. The way I have been looked after in the last year is also something to factor in."

Gatland believes Jones can carry on for a couple of seasons, but Jones is not setting a time frame.

"I have had a season where the joined up WRU and regional relationship is better than ever before," said Jones.

"I have benefited from an extended break at the end of last season and the number of games I have played this season so I am in decent shape.

"The national dual contracts are going, but there will still be benefits to the 38-man Wales squad. I will not talk about funding models or 60-40 pay splits between union and regions. That is for the politicians."

Jones admits he wants to finish on his own terms.

"I enjoy it now as much as when I started," said Jones.

"There are a few more bumps and pages in the physio files, you can't avoid that.

"I still have the hunger and think I can do a job. If I have the tap on the shoulder and I'm told it's my time, hopefully I will be comfortable with that. Hopefully I know before anybody else does."

Alun Wyn Jones and Warren Gatland
Alun Wyn Jones' three Grand Slams have been achieved under Warren Gatland

Record breaker?

There is the prospect of a fourth World Cup, beating Gethin Jenkins' Wales record caps of 129 and overhauling Richie McCaw's world record of 148. Maybe even a fourth Lions tour in South Africa in 2021?

"Those sorts of things are not a target," said Jones.

"When people talk about 50 or 100 caps, I never looked to those targets when I was a kid. I just wanted to play rugby.

"They [milestones] resonate a bit more now because I appreciate what goes into it. I feel fortunate doing what I do for however long I have done it and am not yet finished."

Wales fans everywhere should hope that remains the case for a little longer.

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