Jones set to enjoy Lions tour number three

British & Irish Lion number 761, Ospreys skipper Alun Wyn Jones, has spoken of his pride as he prepares to join an exclusive club currently numbering less than 40 this summer.

Jones was this week named in his third Lions squad having previously visited South Africa (2009) and Australia (2013), playing in all six test matches on those trips, and his selection for this year’s New Zealand tour places him a select band, with less than 40 of the 807 players to have pulled on the Lions shirt to date having done so on three separate tours.

“I think one Lions tour alone is a very special achievement for any player, that so many never get to achieve” said Jones. 

“To be selected a third time, well, there’s an element of surrealness about it. However many times you hear your name called, you know you’ve been very fortunate to hear it and you know that you have to go out and do the shirt justice.

“I’m in a different position to many, maybe, in that I’m fighting to get back onto the pitch before the end of the season, but it’s interesting to read and hear how different people were told.

“Myself, I was in between rehab sessions at the Vale before heading back to Llandarcy. Although I’m immensely proud to be in the squad I can’t get carried away with it as I’ve got plenty of work to do before I get on the plane,”

There’s no more daunting task in world rugby than a grueling test series in New Zealand, evidenced by the fact that the Lions themselves have only ever claimed a series victory there on one occasion, the famous 1971 tour, but Jones says that the class of 2017 will be looking forward to the challenge,

“You’ve got to look at it with a sense of enjoyment” Jones insisted.

“It’s not something that gets done every day and there’ll be a lot of firsts for a lot of people on this tour. You’ve got to enjoy the challenge, those special moments, and relish the experience.

“Whether it’s day to day here at Llandarcy, with Wales, or in New Zealand in the summer, you can’t shy away from difficult challenges. You have to look forward with excitement and I’m sure the squad that flies out there this summer will do just that. 

“As time goes on in my career I achieve a lot more firsts but there are still things I haven’t done, things I want to do and things I’d like to do again. I’m not alone in that, it’s what professional sport is all about.”

As you would expect from someone who has experienced history as a Lion, Jones is in no doubt that the whole Lions concept is as valid today as it’s ever been, despite the changing focus of the professional game. He said:

“You see a lot of comment being made and it’s clear that people are as passionate today as ever about the Lions and what it means. I was fortunate enough to be involved in 2013 and I remember that because of the lack of success in the tours prior to that, there was a lot of questioning before we went and throughout the trip, whether the Lions concept still had a place. Especially with the impact it has on the domestic season, people were asking do we need it in the modern game?

“Very much so, yes, would be my view. It’s been an exciting Six Nations, there’s competition for places across the board and I think it’s whetted public appetite even more so for this tour, especially after the success of 2013. 

“The SANZAR nations only get the opportunity to do this once every 12 years and players there are aware that they are likely to only get one opportunity to play the Lions. Up here, the cycle goes for four years and the reality is most only ever experience one tour so it’s very much a case of taking this opportunity when it comes.”

On this trip, Jones will be accompanied by three more Ospreys, first time Lions Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb, along with his 2013 colleague, Justin Tipuric, and he backed them to thrive on tour, saying:

“I’m hugely pleased for the three of them and, hopefully, together we can all represent the Ospreys with honour this summer. I’ve played a lot of rugby with all of them down the years and it’s great for the Ospreys that these players, who have come through the development pathway to not only play for the region but Wales as well, can achieve Lions selection while still playing for their home team. I think that’s pretty special, inspirational even, as it shows young rugby players from their communities what they can achieve.”

Before he can think about boarding the plane to New Zealand, there is the small matter of a shoulder injury to overcome for Jones, who hasn’t played since the defeat to France on the final day of the Six Nations, a little over a month ago, but there is positive news on that front.

“It was disappointing to get injured when I did” Jones admitted,

“Dare I say it, it’s a bit of history repeating itself from last year, but, it’s highly likely I’m going to feature before the end of the season this time.

“The shoulder’s good and I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve had a four-week wait before sitting down with the consultant and he’s happy that I don’t need an operation, something which has been hanging over me and has been hard to take. Rehab’s gone well and now I’d like to get a game or two under my belt before the tour, maybe more if all goes well for the Ospreys.

“We’ve got a couple of huge matches ahead that I’d like to be involved in and, whether that happens for me or not, if we get the right performance in those, we’ll extend the season beyond the first week of May which has always been a target for us.

“I’m fortunate that the South Wales Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre has allowed me to use their hyperbaric chamber in Swansea to help speed up the healing process ahead of my return to playing so I owe them a debt of gratitude as well as a big thanks to the Ospreys physios and the Wales physios, who have enabled me to get to this point and have been really proactive in getting me there.”