Rob Howley backs Alun Wyn Jones to inspire Lions to victory
Alun Wyn Jones' "magic" achievement of nine consecutive British and Irish Lions Test matches can inspire a stunning series victory over New Zealand, according to Rob Howley.
The 31-year-old Wales lock will become just the seventh man to play in nine straight Lions Tests in Saturday's series decider with the All Blacks at Eden Park.
Warren Gatland challenged Jones to shape up after a below-par showing in the 30-15 first Test defeat in Auckland, and the Ospreys talisman hit back in style as the Lions prevailed 24-21 to square the series in Wellington last weekend.
And now assistant coach Howley has hailed Jones' battling return to form as a potentially crucial as the Lions seek to subdue the All Blacks in the tight five to secure only their second-ever series win in New Zealand this weekend.
"Alun Wyn, that achievement on the weekend, it's something which is very special," said Howley.
"He joins a unique group of players, when you look at Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride, Gareth Edwards.
"For Alun Wyn to achieve what he's done on the weekend is something which is magic. It's quite unbelievable."
When asked to rate Jones' resurgence after that disappointing first Test showing, Howley continued: "That's the experience of Alun Wyn isn't it? He spoke about his own performance over the last four or five weeks.
"And in adversity you find out about players and coaches, and he's been able to dust himself off, and mentally get in a place where he needs to be.
"And I thought you saw from a physicality perspective and his decision-making last week, that it was an excellent performance.
"We probably need to go another level in every department and we all understand that.
"And Alun Wyn has been outstanding, obviously he's a very intelligent rugby player.
"There's strong balance in that second row, with Maro (Itoje), with his physicality, energy and skill-set.
"That's something that we've said over the last 12 months, the point of difference when you play New Zealand is the front-five.
"It's the skill-set, it's the energy and what they bring.
"And at this moment in time we feel we're matching them in that area, and which allows us to play.
"That was important last weekend, and that's the challenge once again.
"It's a new game and a new experience and that will need to happen on Saturday."
Wales centre Jonathan Davies will start his sixth straight Lions Test this weekend, having played a pivotal role in the 2013 series win in Australia.
The Scarlets star has excelled in the 13 shirt against the All Blacks, with backs coach Howley hailing the low-key 29-year-old's continued impact.
"He probably likes to go under the radar Jon; he's very unassuming, but technically and tactically he's very good," said Howley.
"It's important he has a huge role in those wider channels.
"When you've got the back-three we have in terms of pace and the ability to beat players, we need to put those players in that space.
"Jon facilitates that very well, and you've seen that with ball in hand.
"He's very physical, he's got a very good outside break and he's got better and better.
"When we arrived, because he was involved in the PRO12 finals, he was given a chance later in the tour, and that took a lot of patience.
"He's shown patience and when he's been given the chance he's taken it. He's taken his chance with both hands."