Alun Wyn Jones’ stellar playing career has already secured him a place among rugby royalty – and the British and Irish Lions captaincy provides a crowning moment.
Jones will lead the Lions in South Africa this summer on what promises to be a tour like no other as sport continues its emergence from the coronavirus pandemic, and there could be no better man for the job.
His international rugby journey began 15 years ago, 7,500 miles away from home in the rugby outpost of Puerto Madryn, South America.
He played blindside flanker for Wales that day against Argentina, but second-row quickly became the position from which Jones went on to establish himself as an all-time Welsh rugby great.
At the age of 35, Jones can reflect on helping Wales to win five Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, and reaching two World Cup semi-finals.
He also holds the world record of 157 Test match appearances – including nine for the Lions across their last three tours – and is closing in on 250 games for the Swansea-based Ospreys.
Jones has captained the Lions before, skippering them to a third Test victory over Australia in Sydney eight years ago when tour leader Sam Warburton was injured, that clinched the series.
But now he has one of world rugby’s most coveted jobs from the outset, and his credentials are unquestioned.
It means he will emulate fellow illustrious Welshmen like Warburton, John Dawes, Phil Bennett and David Watkins after Lions head coach Warren Gatland once again placed his trust in a player who did him proud during the New Zealander’s 12-year stint as Wales boss.
While Jones is often a man of few words, far preferring to let his rugby do the talking, others readily lavish praise on him.
Wales, Ospreys and Lions colleague Justin Tipuric describes him as “an absolute freak” and a “machine,” while Wales head coach Wayne Pivac labels him as an “inspiration” and former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies calls Jones’ career “extraordinary”.
Recent proof of Jones’ durability and exceptional ability came after he suffered a knee injury during Wales’ Autumn Nations Cup finale against Italy in December.
He was sidelined for nine weeks, facing a race against time to be fit for Wales’ opening Six Nations appointment with Ireland in Cardiff, but not only did Jones recover to start that match, he performed like he had never been away in what was his comeback game, making a stamina-sapping 23 tackles.
Of his 157 Tests, 144 were starts, but it is perhaps Jones’ meticulous attitude to training and preparation that defines him.
Wales and Lions assistant coach Neil Jenkins has worked with Jones for longer than most, and speaking earlier this season, he said: “He plays in the front five, and it is one of the hardest positions you could possibly play on a rugby pitch, yet he still seems like he is a young kid.
“He turns up to training, he’s first to everything. Very rarely does he get beaten at anything, if he does at all. That’s the way he is.
“He is just world class. I would like to think he has got a fair bit in him yet, but when the day does come when he is not wearing that Wales jersey, he will be sorely missed. He has been huge for Wales.”
🏆 Revealed! This is what the Springboks and @lionsofficial will be playing for later this year!— Springboks (@Springboks) May 4, 2021
➡️ https://t.co/Bu2sTjRDT7#LetsGetReadyToRugby #CastleLionsSeries @LionsSeries pic.twitter.com/hfOZIrNR1B
Jones’ recent signing of a new one-year contract with the Welsh Rugby Union and Ospreys suggest there are a fair few chapters still to unfold in his remarkable rugby story.
Having landed the Lions job, there will now be only one thing on Jones’ mind – leading the best of British and Irish to a Test series win against the world champion Springboks.
The plaudits that come with such an appointment will be acknowledged, but no more than that, as Jones prepares for what he loves best – rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work.