Former Wales captain Scott Quinnell discusses the impact of Alun Wyn Jones as the second rower draws closer to breaking Richie McCaw’s record for the most Test caps in history.
If Alun Wyn Jones plays in all five of Wales’ Six Nations games, he will equal Richie McCaw’s record for the most Test caps with 148.
It’s been a hard-fought career for the Ospreys second rower so far, having represented the British and Irish Lions on three tours – playing in all nine Tests – and winning three Six Nations Grand Slams with Wales.
His commitment to his team and the way he plays the game has been taxing, but the toll from playing rugby pales in comparison with the toll his body goes through when singing Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. He belts out the anthem like he was taught how to sing by the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.
The visit of France to the Principality Stadium next weekend will be the latest opportunity for fans to see the proud red shirt of Wales looking washed out during the pre-match formalities against the flush face of its captain. The only player, it can be said, who earns his ice bath before the game has even begun.
“I’ve never seen so many veins,” says former Wales number eight Scott Quinnell of Jones. “It’s like Rambo on steroids when he sings the national anthem!”
If you were asked to tell the story of what rugby means in Wales to someone from a country such as America through a single picture, you’d probably use one of Jones singing the anthem. Though Quinnell is not convinced it would have quite the desired effect.
“The problem is, if you showed Americans Alun Wyn singing the national anthem, they’ll all say ‘I’m not playing against that guy’ and go play American Football,” he said.
“I think most Americans are waiting for Alun Wyn Jones to retire before they take up rugby.”
Jones made his debut against Argentina in 2006, three months shy of his 21st birthday. He started in the number six jersey in a pack that had Adam and Duncan Jones in the front row as well as the likes of Shane Williams and Mike Phillips in the backline.
Despite making his first international start among some of the most well-respected players Wales has produced, Quinnell says it was apparent from the outset that Jones was ready to mix it with the older players and make himself heard.
“To start with, when you saw him he was just an angry man,” says the former Lions back rower. “When he was a young man, he would come out and he would shout at people and he’d have a go.
“He was a natural leader and a lot of that natural leadership was through a bit of anger. Each time he would go on the pitch you’d think ‘Oh, he’ll settle down now’, but he’s 34 now and he’s got as much anger in him now as when he was 24!”
“But that anger that we perceive is passion, and that passion certainly hasn’t waned at all. If anything it’s even bigger now.
“He’s incredible, and you can see why over the last 13 years team-mates have followed him, why fans love him and why opponents dislike playing against him. He’s got the engine of a rolls royce, and the heart of a dragon.”
It’s the manner in which Jones plays the game that likely has his GP sweating on the sidelines; the 34-year-old tackles ball-carriers with the kind of ferocity that makes them wish he’d retired at 33, and he flies head-first into rucks like they’re bargain bins in a Black Friday sale.
“I’m sure like many of us rugby players he’s got a stairlift on order for when he retires!” said Quinnell. “He’ll be living in a bungalow from now on. He’s not going up any stairs.
“If he can walk up stairs when he retires he’ll be a very lucky man!”
Given his disregard for his own wellbeing, it’s impressive that Jones is on the verge of becoming the first player to pass 150 caps for his country.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Quinnell. “You talk about passion, you talk about pride, but it’s the longevity given how much he puts his body through. When you combine all of that, there’s a real hero inside.
“I said about five years ago that he will go down as one of the greatest Welsh players of all time, and in those last five years he’s got even better.
“You look at some of the great players in history, they will have played at home maybe for their club. Alun Wyn played every week, every minute, and he has played home and away for his club.
“What he’s done for the Ospreys, what he’s done for Wales, what he’s done for the Lions. If you count the minutes up, you’d have to say he’s been value for money.”
As Jones embarks on yet another international calendar year, here’s hoping for many more memories of him testing the acoustics of the Principality Stadium as well as the patience of his opponents.