Rugby Union: Jones starts to make his recovery but will never play again

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Gwyn Jones, the Cardiff flanker who was set to lead Wales in the 1999 World Cup, will never play rugby again. Rob Cole reports.

Gwyn Jones' father, Dr Alun Jones, broke the grim news that Welsh rugby had been fearing at a press briefing at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff yesterday.

Gwyn, the 25-year-old captain of Wales, has been in hospital since suffering a serious neck injury in a ruck 13 minutes into the Cardiff v Swansea league match at the Arms Park last week. Doctors said that he had regained slight movement in his limbs but that his recovery would be a long process taking months rather than days. Dr Jones, who was at his son's side when he was taken from the field on a stretcher, admitted: "He won't play again."

He said that his son, who had an operation earlier this week to relieve the pressure on his spinal cord, was in good spirits and had been helped by messages of support from all around the world.

"He has had many hundreds of postcards, presents and paintings wishing him a speedy recovery," Dr Jones said. "Gwyn, and my wife and family, considered the injury to be a complete accident."

Jonathan Vafidis, a consultant neurosurgeon, said the player was in a comfortable and stable condition but it was too early to give a long- term prognosis.

"There is still swelling on the spinal cord and what we have seen over the first week is some sign of improvement. We remain upbeat about things at present," he said. "But I think it's a matter of not being able to predict the outcome at this stage.

"At the moment we are keeping him still and flat as a precautionary measure and I think that probably over the next week or so we can start backing off on things like posture and try to start mobilising him.

"He is likely to be in the hospital for some time. There may be dramatic changes for the better, you never know, but I cannot give a timescale."

Dr Jones revealed that Gwyn's younger sister, Eluned, a student studying Welsh at Cardiff University, has given up playing rugby after only taking up the game a month ago.

"It was her decision," he said. "I have played rugby and been involved in it all my life with various Welsh squads for the last 25 years and I have never seen an injury like this."

The injury has come as a great blow to the rugby fraternity and Wales in particular. Gwyn Jones captained the Under-15s against Scotland in 1988 and went on to play five times for the Welsh schools Under-18s in 1990-91.

He played in the all-conquering Wales Under-19 team that went to Canada and then very quickly graduated into the Wales Under-21 and A teams.

A Welsh speaker, he attended Llandovery College and also played for the Welsh Students. His Wales debut came against Italy in 1996, and he took over as captain 18 months later on the Welsh tour to North America.

He led the side six times, winning the three Tests in the United States and Canada, defeated Romania by 70 points in August, and beat Tonga. His last match in charge was the loss in their first-ever match at Wembley against the All Blacks. He was already regarded as an intelligent captain who led from the front.

The 25-year-old was emulating his great uncle Ivor - also a flanker and captain of Wales as well as a Lion - when he was appointed to lead his country. Both started their careers and made their names with Llanelli.

One of the new breed of professional rugby players, he never lost his love for the game, as his determination to battle back from numerous injuries during his career showed.

The Wales coach, Kevin Bowring, paid tribute to the player he had pencilled in to lead the national side in the World Cup that takes place in the Principality in 1999.

"There is no doubt that in Gwyn's short playing career he has earned enormous respect," he said.

"We hope that Gwyn's knowledge and advice can support the team in their World Cup build-up," Bowring added. "But as a player, we will never replace him." Wales' next game is a Five Nations' warm-up on 7 February against Italy.

Cardiff begin the defence of their Swalec Cup against Division Six A East leaders Abercarn at Cardiff Arms Park with thoughts of their captain uppermost in their minds.

The team manager, Peter Manning, said: "It has been an extremely difficult time for everyone at the club and Gwyn's condition has always been in our minds.

"I know it is asking a lot but we just have to try to be professional and to concentrate on the match and on playing well."

Players, too, were quick to send good luck messages with Scott Gibbs, the Wales, Swansea and Lions centre, saying: "It's a huge blow, but hopefully Gwyn will be able to pursue his promising medical career."