Alun Wyn Jones: Mr Modest refuses to rest on his past glories
The only way is forward for lock who led Lions to victory and Wales to Six Nations joy last season
Thursday 17 October 2013
The pictures from Sydney's ANZ Stadium seemed to tell the whole story. The British and Irish Lions had just won a series for the first time in 16 years. On the field, there was an outpouring of emotion, a collective moment of celebration of four nations flung together as one.
Amid the joy and jubilation, Alun Wyn Jones, who had taken over the captaincy from injured countryman Sam Warburton, lay on the turf his arms outstretched, eyes closed, surrounded by ticker tape.
It was neither the 41-16 mauling of Australia nor the cause for celebration that was at the forefront of his mind. Instead, it was a sense of relief, a feeling of job done and on to the next task.
"I think when we won the game, it was more a realisation that the season had ended rather than the fact we'd won," he remembers. "It was a case of 'I can stop now and I don't have to get up and worry about it'. That's how I took it."
That is Jones the man, Jones the player in a nutshell: never satisfied in his performance or his achievements, always looking for the next hurdle. Take last weekend's game in which he saw his Ospreys side lose their 2013-14 Heineken Cup opener to defending champion Leinster 19-9. "I'm angry and I made mistakes, and I think we should all be angry about our performance," he said in the immediate aftermath.
Wales and Lions coach Warren Gatland praised Jones for being "outstanding" and "leading from the front" while Down Under but there is almost a sense that the Lions slightly irritates Jones, such is his drive for success.
"The problem about winning with the Lions is that you get asked about it a lot," he says. "Maybe that's not a bad thing – well, it depends on whether I'm in good mood or bad mood."
At what is the launch of Wales' new kit, the mood is good but he is not about to start reminiscing about the Lions as the pinnacle of his career.
"I'm not one to talk about highlights at this stage," adds the 28-year-old, already with 70 Test caps to his name. "That's to do at the end of my career. I've no idea whether that will be the highlight or not when it's all over."
A Wales World Cup win in 2015 – not inconceivable – would surely trump that, not that the second rower is letting on. "Someone asked me about the World Cup earlier," he says unprompted. "I'm never going to comment on something that's 18 months to two years down the line with the ups and downs of sport. That's a dangerous thing to do."
Jones is all too aware of how the highs can turn to lows. At the last World Cup Wales were among the tournament's stars, reaching the semi-finals, before embarking last year on an eight-match streak without a win until the second weekend of the 2013 Six Nations.
In fairness to him, he played no part in any of those defeats because of injury, coming back as Wales' fortunes changed and their path to the championship title was moulded. How much was that down to the Jones factor?
"I'm not sure about that," he says. "The turnaround had started the week before I came back against France."
But there is no denying that Jones was integral for both Wales in the latter stages of that tournament and again for the Lions, the consistency of his performances arguably his greatest strength.
He jokes: "It's easy to be consistent when you're playing at 60 per cent," before adding somewhat modestly, "I guess I'm fortunate I'm a front five forward and there's not a lot to do a lot of the time and what you do do is pretty simple. But how I play just goes back to the fact that I want to win everything. As a captain you want to set an example – but sometimes it doesn't come off.
"I wouldn't say I'm more ambitious than the next man. But the thing is I'm a fan first and player second. I was never the best player at grade level all the way up, I just enjoyed rugby and so I've enjoyed the wins even more.
"But when I win something, it's a case of 'what's next?' Is it better to win something for the first time, like the Heineken Cup, or doubling up and winning another Grand Slam with Wales or whatever? I'm not sure which one is harder."
Wales have another packed autumn coming up with Tests next month against South Africa, Argentina, Tonga and Australia. Jones insists they will not suffer the same slump of a year ago.
"That run of defeats looked bad on paper but you have to think the boys were only a few points or so from beating Australia in three Tests, and that takes it out of you for the autumn," he says. "A lot was put right from the summer but it didn't quite work. It was a bit of a case of trough, trough, peak, peak. None of it was down to complacency and, in a perverse way, I think that was the key to us winning the Six Nations."
And as much as he is looking forward to being involved at international level, his sights are currently set on the Ospreys, for whom he could be in the midst of his last season. He had previously hinted that he could join the Welsh invasion of French club rugby next season.
On the subject, he says: "I tried to avoid that question as, once it's out there, you can't avoid it. What I'd say is that it's not something I want to discuss right now," only adding further to the idea that this could be his last year at the Ospreys.
Or it could merely be that Jones does not like to look too far ahead, his mind currently cast no further forward than this weekend and Sunday's visit to Franklin's Gardens and the prospect of Northampton to make amends for their previous Heineken Cup defeat.
Should things go awry, Jones will be the first critic of himself and his side. As he says: "If you're harsh on yourself then no one else can shoot you down." Such is the stature of the 6ft 5in lock in the game, few are likely to do so.
Under Armour is the Official Technical Partner of the Welsh Rugby Union. For more information please visit: www.wru.co.uk
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