Reasons pile high why coaches find it hard to let go of certain players. There is comfort in knowing that certain quantities deliver exact measurable loads. Scotland’s Finn Russell would not fit that design. Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones does.
Some will see the inclusion of 37-year-old Jones for his 17th Six Nations Championship as a back to the future pick. But the way Welsh coach Warren Gatland sees it is that the monolithic lock with a law degree is a player of the moment. The secondrow will win his 156th cap, a number that may not ever be equalled.
An unfathomable depth of rugby intellect selected to play against two strong Irish operators in Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan, Jones won’t be required to take his body beyond certain limits.
Ken Owens might be the captain but Jones is expected to be one of the players available to point Wales in their preferred direction before he gives way for the continuance of the meteoric rise of 20-year-old Dafydd Jenkins.
“The conversation with Alun Wyn is I expect him to bust himself for the first 40 minutes and then we make a change early in the second half. Dafydd then comes on and gets some time in the secondrow,” said Gatland at the team announcement.
Jones is enjoying the role he has been asked to play and with a World Cup later this year, it could yet be a more poignant 2023 than he imagined. But Gatland understands Welsh transition is not only naturally occurring but vital and also under the clock give the squeeze on time after Wayne Pivac’s departure.
“He [Jones] has been fantastic in the past week or so in terms of his voice and experience, and I want those younger secondrows to learn from that experience,” added Gatland. “I said to him he has been around for last 15 years, and he corrected me and said it had been 17.
“I have always been a great admirer of his, but we’ve got to go through the process of some transition. I would love him to be able to make the decision when he calls the time, but he is well aware of the needs of this team at the moment, and we just keep talking about how many games he plays, who starts, and when he decides to make a decision to finish with international rugby.”
More room than Gatland would have wanted has been made in the secondrow, with the injury to their strongest lock and the Welsh Rugby Writers’ Association Player of the Year for 2022, Will Rowlands.
Currently injured, the 6′ 10″ 31-year-old agreed to join Racing 92 for next season, where he will be coached by Stuart Lancaster. The move, however, will make him ineligible to play for Wales in the future.
Jones remains solidly stoic about the coming months, understanding his role is as much to impart what he has to his own players as it is to inflict it on Ireland.
Relentless, consistent, driven, frank and intelligent are words that appear with regularity beside his name. Ireland will know what’s coming. But they always have.