148 RICHIE McCAW 141 BRIAN O’DRISCOLL 139 GEORGE GREGAN 134 GETHIN JENkINS 134 SERGIO PARISSE 132 kEvEN MEALAMU 130 RONAN O’GARA 129 STEPHEN MOORE 127 vICTOR MATfIELD 126 ALUN WyN JONES
in 2006. He also brought the Mumbles and Bonymaen shirts he had as a kid, a Swansea shirt from his first days in senior rugby and a Wales supporter’s jersey he wore in the stands when cheering on his country.
“The jerseys I’ve brought with me were a precursor to that (his professional career),” Jones explains. “I supported a club, played for a local club, had a Welsh jersey, supported a region, got a first cap and went on to become a fully-trained professional.”
He remembers going to Wembley to see Scott Gibbs score the try that helped secure a famous win over England in 1999, and being in the crowd at St Helen’s watching Swansea play with his U11s team-mates “in our tracksuits, thinking we were the kings!” He even recalls a poster he had of Scott Quinnell and Ieuan Evans posing on a rocky outcrop in a new Wales strip.
Back then, he was the one looking up to those internationals, dreaming of becoming one. Now he’s the hero many youngsters want to emulate – and it will take someone pretty special to achieve as much as AWJ has in his career.
What is most remarkable has been the consistency he has shown while playing at the top of the game for a dozen-plus years. Many players suffer dips in form here and there, particularly given the sheer volume of matches internationals play in the modern game. But Jones’s high standards rarely slip and, as former England fly-half Stuart Barnes explains in the panel opposite, he has also developed his game over that time too, adding more skills to his already impressive skill-set.
This season he is benefiting from a prolonged summer break, having been rested for Wales’ tour to the Americas, and his game time is also being managed by the Ospreys and the WRU given that this is the start of a big, and lengthy, campaign leading up to the World Cup, with another season beyond that. His two tries against the Cheetahs – as many as he scored in the Guinness Pro14 across the whole of last season – would suggest he’s in good shape.
“This was an opportunity to have a break in the right way and I made the most of it with my family,” says Jones, who welcomed a second daughter with wife Anwen earlier this year. “It was nice to have time off, especially with a World Cup or Lions tour every two years and summer tours in between those. It was good to get physically right and mentally take a load off.”
Next month he is expected to lead Wales out at the Principality Stadium for a busy autumn series, with Tests against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa. With Sam Warburton announcing his retirement in July, Jones is the frontrunner to captain his country through to next year’s World Cup. He is not one to look too far ahead, more of which shortly, but he is intrigued by the opportunity to play in Japan.
“It’s a long way off but I’m excited to see how Japan host a World Cup,” he says. “With the energy the country has for any spectacle, it will be interesting to see how they take it on. It’s been great to go to World Cups in France, New Zealand and England, and while they’re culturally different, they’re all very similar. You probably couldn’t make Japan more different if you tried!”
Yet Jones won’t set RWC 2019 as a goal. He prefers to focus on the process rather than the end result, careful not to get caught looking too far ahead. It was similar when he was nearing his 100th Wales cap – he didn’t want to talk about it until he was actually at that point.
Ask if he’s contemplated passing Richie McCaw’s caps record of 148 – certainly not beyond him in the final years of his career given the number of Tests played these days, although Italy’s Sergio Parisse may get there first – and the answer is a definitive ‘no’.
“That’s a dangerous game to play, setting targets. There are so many variables out of your control – form, fitness and things like that.”
As for what he wants to do post-rugby, he’s unsure. He’s done work experience
“It’s hard to evaluate everything until we all play at the same time. It would be better for everyone”
Burst the bubble Wales beat Scotland 34-7 in the Six Nations Wales kick off their November series against Scotland – here are the key dates at the Principality Stadium… Sat 3 Nov Wales v Scotland (2.45pm) Sat 10 Nov Wales v Australia (5.20pm) Sat 17 Nov Wales v Tonga (2.30pm) Sat 24 Nov Wales v South Africa (5.20pm)
Brace yourself Scoring v Cheetahs