Alun Wyn Jones: Warren Gatland says Wales captain can carry on until 2021 Lions tour
Warren Gatland says Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones could make it through until the 2021 Lions tour and even the 2023 World Cup if he is managed correctly.
The 33-year-old led Wales to the Grand Slam this year and was named the Six Nations player of the tournament.
Jones's national dual contract between Ospreys and the Welsh Rugby Union ends after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
"One of the reasons he is playing so well is because he has been managed exceptionally well," said Gatland.
Jones played 10 games for his region last season while also leading Wales to the Grand Slam.
The three-time Lions tourist is currently negotiating a new Ospreys deal, with the national dual contracts having finished.
Jones will be 35 when the Lions tour South Africa and approaching 38 at the next World Cup in France in 2023.
Gatland believes Jones could extend his career significantly if he looks after his amount of games.
"Could he get through to the next World Cup like [Ireland and Lions lock great] Paul O'Connell?" said Gatland.
"It's a possibility if he is on limited games - he is playing the best rugby he has at the moment.
"But two years is a long time in sport and you never know, lots can change."
Gatland has been named as the Lions head coach for a third successive tour after winning a series in Australia in 2013 and drawing 1-1 in New Zealand four years later.
Sam Warburton was his tour skipper on those two occasions and Gatland said he would choose Jones or Owen Farrell as captain, if he was picking his Lions squad today.
England's fly-half or centre Farrell will be 29 when the Lions go to South Africa, with Gatland matching Sir Ian McGeechan as the only other man to take charge of three tours.
"It's got to be someone who has the respect of everyone," Gatland said.
"Ideally you want someone to be coming from a successful team. Alun Wyn comes to mind at the moment and Owen Farrell.
"Potentially those two are players that you'd talk about if you were picking a team right now, but two years is a long time and you never know what's going to happen in the game."
Jones has never captained a Lions squad but has a 100% record as skipper in Test matches, having led the tourists to a series-clinching 41-16 win over Australia in 2013.
"What has to be important is form has to be good and ideally there is lots to consider with a captain," said Gatland.
"A player who has the respect of a squad, coming from a team that is doing well and you also have to consider how much competition there is in their position.
"There is a lot of competition in that position and a lot of second rows around at the moment.
"So if you are all of a sudden appointing a captain like Alun Wyn in that position, you have got to be 100% certain in your own mind that if he is playing as well as he can, he will be starting in the Test team.
"That's not always guaranteed. Those are the kind of things that go through your head when you are talking about picking a captain, certain scenarios like will he be under pressure from other players in the squad."