Warren Gatland has a clear choice over elder statesman Alun Wyn Jones for the Lions tour to South Africa… either take him as captain or don’t select him at all
- Warren Gatland’s main choice for British & Irish Lions captain is Alun Wyn Jones
- His experience, authority and leadership for Wales make him the best choice
- But if Gatland looks elsewhere, then Jones’ Lions selection should be questioned
- Jones should not being going to make up the midweek second-string numbers
- Gatland’s other choices aren’t clear, with Owen Farrell’s stock falling recently
As Warren Gatland retreated to his Dublin hotel room on Saturday night, he had two requirements: a pint of Guinness and a TV showing the Wales match.
After watching Ireland beat England at the Aviva Stadium, he bedded in at the Mespil, on the banks of the Grand Canal, to watch his old comrades bid for the Grand Slam.
There was little need to travel to Paris. He already knows what this golden generation of Welsh players offer in terms of bloody-minded resilience and a defiance like few others, even if they were pipped on Saturday night.
If Alun Wyn Jones goes on the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, it should be as captain
Warren Gatland has some big decisions to make ahead of the Lions tour of South Africa
No one epitomises that more than Alun Wyn Jones, who led the charge, with veins bulging from his temples, right to the bitter end.
Gatland, surely, took note.
During his years as Wales coach, Gatland had to force the lock to take a day off. His appetite for work was insatiable and those around him would follow. Jones is a standard setter.
When the WRU introduced GPS technology to record the players’ high-speed running statistics during a match, Jones would often sprint back to the halfway line after a try, just so his numbers were higher than those of his team-mates.
The clock has kept ticking, but Jones’ influence remains. On Saturday night he topped the tackle count until the dying stages, as Wales finally wilted.
Jones does not have the younger exuberance of a Maro Itoje, James Ryan or Tadhg Beirne. If you stripped away his experience and authority, he would be a lesser player than some of his younger rivals.
Jones (right) leading the Lions out in a series warm-up game against the Crusaders in 2017
That is why his role must be as the elder statesman. The captain. If Gatland is looking for a midweek man to play in the second-string team against the Barbarians and take on the James Haskell role of entertainer-in-chief, then there are better options than Jones.
If he is not selected as skipper, then there is a question of whether he should be selected at all. Like Brian O’Driscoll, who was dropped in 2013, there would be a sense of unease seeing Jones sat in the stands with his hood up.
He is a finisher, or a squad player who will be the heart and soul of the Thursday night drinking session with the reserves.
He is serious, often abrasive in character, and he will not be intimidated by the Springboks’ heaviest of enforcers. Just a few weeks ago he turned up for media duties with a black eye because he had a fight with one of his own team-mates, Jake Ball, in training.
He sets an example with small gestures. After the victory over England, when the cameras had turned away, he was the guy helping the ground staff carry the trophy presentation podium back across the pitch. He even built a house in the Mumbles purely because it had a swimming pool where he could do his water aerobic exercises.
Gatland is not blessed with outstanding captaincy options. All of the contenders have their flaws. Owen Farrell and Itoje’s leadership stock has fallen during the Six Nations, while Johnny Sexton and Stuart Hogg are far from guaranteed a place in the team.
Gatland does not have many captaincy choices – Owen Farrell’s stock has dropped recently
However, during Jones’ captaincy Wales have consistently punched above their weight. Winger Josh Adams was nowhere near England’s selection conversations as a youngster at Worcester. He was regarded as just a solid club man.
With Wales, he was transformed into the joint top try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup. Jones can take a small part of the credit, for helping to create an environment that brings the best out of those around him.
If Gatland had a list of 60 candidates at the start of the tournament, that number may have been cut down to 45.
Jones should be the name with the big ‘C’ next to it, while a number of his colleagues in red have also furthered their case for selection.
Plenty for Gatland to dwell on over his pint of Guinness.
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