Alun Wyn Jones, the world’s most-capped rugby player, has today added the captaincy of the British and Irish Lions to one of sport’s most remarkable CVs.
The Wales skipper, winner of five Six Nations titles, three with Grand Slams, beat Maro Itoje, Stuart Hogg and Owen Farrell to the job of leading this summer’s tour.
It is the third straight visit to South Africa that the Lions have chosen a second row forward as captain – after Martin Johnson in 1997 and Paul O’Connell in 2009.
And it is fitting reward for a player who worked wonders to turn a dismal 2020 campaign into Six Nations glory this spring, coming within seconds of an unbeaten campaign.
At 35 years, 229 days old the Swansea-born lock is the old man of the party, a figure some thought would retire after the 2019 World Cup.
“I’ve got a little bit longer yet,” was his reply then. He wasn’t joking. With a new contract in his pocket he is expected to play through to the next tournament in 2023.
Before then he returns to the country where his Lions’ career began, having appeared in all nine Tests the tourists have played across three tours since 2009.
He goes back to South Africa, still preaching the mantra “You're as good as your next one, not your previous” which has served him so well.
And he takes with him a squad bigger than expected after a 37th player was added after yesterday’s final four-hour selection meeting.
Gatland admitted: "In all my time in coaching this was was the most challenging squad I've had to pick."
Jones revealed: "I received a call from Gats on Sunday evening. I missed the call. Thought I’d better call him back. I accepted obviously.
“I feel very proud, very privileged. To be selected is initially what you want to be hearing. To have the armband as well is a privilege given the names that have gone before.”
The squad announcement itself brought a series of gasps as a large number of players expected to be included were left by the wayside.
England quartet Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, Billy Vunipola and Henry Slade were omitted, as were Ireland duo James Ryan and Garry Ringrose and Wales pair Jon Davies and Josh Navidi.
That made room for surprise call-ups for Bundee Aki, Chris Harris, Ali Price, Jack Conan and Jonny Hill.
British and Irish Lions squad in full
Forwards : Tadgh Beirne (Ireland), Jack Conan (Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Tom Curry (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadgh Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Jonny Hill (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Wyn Jones (Wales), Courtney Lawes (England), Ken Owens (Wales), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland).
Backs : Josh Adams (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Chris Harris (Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales).
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