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'Loved in Wales, admired around the world' - Alun Wyn Jones to become most capped Test player in rugby history

Warren Gatland has paid tribute to the Wales captain ahead of his landmark appearance, which makes 149 the new record.

Having equalled Richie McCaw's record, AWJ now surpasses it.
Having equalled Richie McCaw's record, AWJ now surpasses it.
Image: PA

WELSH CAPTAIN ALUN Wyn Jones is set to become the most capped Test player in rugby history this weekend when he leads his side out for their Six Nations clash against Scotland.

35-year-old Jones will set a new record of 149, and surpass the one he shared with retired New Zealand legend Richie McCaw. The lock will win his 140th Wales cap, to add to the nine Lions Tests he has played.

Former Wales head coach and current Lions boss Warren Gatland has paid tribute to Jones ahead of this significant milestone.

“I’m not surprised that he’s reached this milestone and I’m also not surprised by the longevity of his career,” the New Zealander said.

“He’s a player who doesn’t often get injured, trains all the time and as he’s got a little bit older and matured, he’s learned how to manage himself a lot better than his younger days. Trying to get him to have a rest or a break, he didn’t always want to do that. It was almost like a martyrdom thing.

“I’d say ‘How are you feeling? and he’d say ‘I’m fresh’, and a couple years ago he said to me, ‘I wish I’d listened to you a little bit earlier about managing myself.’

“Now, he’s got a fantastic balance between rugby and training and home life and he’s matured incredibly well, and is unbelievably respected by the players — the example that he sets at training, the high expectations that he has on himself.”

While major recognition didn’t come early on even though he was “performing incredibly well,” Gatland has been pleased to see Jones really catch the eye on the world stage over the past few years, and receive the plaudits he deserves.

While he’s “incredibly well-respected, loved in Wales,” he’s now “admired around the world.”

2018-natwest-6-nations-launch-syon-park-hilton Gatland with Jones in 2018. Source: PA

“He’s an unbelievable competitor,” Gatland continues. “He’s smart in the way that he plays, and that experience of knowing when to go hard, in terms of kick chase, the physicality that he brings in the contact area and the breakdown. He leads, very much, by example.

What I admire about him is he still never takes the jersey for granted, you know he’s still waiting for selection. ‘If I’m selected next week,’ those sort of comments that he makes.

“I think he respects incredibly the opportunity that he’s had to play for Wales, he’s so proud as a passionate Welshman to have played. And of course the Lions, as well.”

While unsure how long he’ll continue playing, Gatland added: “I think he’s got ambitions for next year with the Lions — it’s a position with a huge amount of quality and depth and that’s going be a challenge for him.

“It’s important that he has a good Six Nations – he’ll know that, but if he does end up in South Africa in 2021, it would be his fourth Lions tour which is an incredible feat.”

It’s an amazing accolade to become the world’s most capped player, particularly from a small nation like Wales,” he concluded.

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“I think he’s going to set the bar incredibly high. How long he can keep going for? I don’t know. How many more caps could he potentially have? Maybe another 10 or 20. 

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him as a man, as a husband, as a father, and as Welsh captain. He came into the role late after Sam Warburton, but he’s done an incredible job in the way that he’s led in his own way. And I think that’s something that’s been very, very impressive. He’s an incredibly passionate man and a proud Welshman”

Meanwhile, Wales coach Wayne Pivac, who has endured a tough start to his spell in charge of the 2019 Grand Slam champions with just one win in four Six Nations games so far, hands a Test debut to Shane Lewis-Hughes against Scotland.

The Dragons flanker joins the experienced duo of Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric in the back row while there is a first start for the once-capped Will Rowlands who partners Jones in the second row.

Rowlands came off second best with Wasps in the English Premiership final last Saturday against Exeter — the champions’ prop Tomas Francis also starts against the Scots.

The Welsh will be bidding to round off their Six Nations, which was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, on a winning note and deny the Scots their first win in Wales since 2002. 

- Additional reporting from © – AFP, 2020 and Murray Kinsella.

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