Alun Wyn Jones: Rugby greats pay tribute to Wales's 'leader, legend, father figure'

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales in Tokyo, Japan
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is the world's most-capped lock
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is the world's most-capped lock

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones might have missed out on World Rugby's Player of the Year award to South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit but he has been praised by legends of the game.

World Cup-winning captains Francois Pienaar, Richie McCaw, John Eales and John Smit lavished praise on the 34-year-old Wales lock at World Rugby's awards ceremony in Tokyo.

"I think he's the best captain in the world," said Pienaar, who famously led South Africa to 1995 World Cup success on home soil.

"I've said that if you look at how he's readied his team, when they were down and out and they came back and they shouldn't have. I put that down to him.

"I'm a fan. Not only because of the way he handles himself, when I saw him put his arm around that little mascot singing the anthem, I thought 'that's generosity of spirit'.

"He is a great servant of the game and he's really done well. If you look at the Welsh performances over the last two years, they've been phenomenal."

Wales’ success under Gatland ‘unrivalled’ says captain Jones

Jones has become the second most capped player of all during the World Cup in Japan - where Wales finished fourth - with 143 Tests to his name, 134 for Wales and nine for the British and Irish Lions.

Only McCaw, who led New Zealand to World Cup success in 2011 and 2015, has more caps to his name with 148 and admits his record is under threat next year from the Ospreys player.

"He's obviously Wales captain and inspires all the guys around him," said McCaw.

"He's had some pretty good success winning a fair few games in the last little while and he's been a big part of that.

"He's a real warrior and was deservedly nominated for the world player of the year."

'Just a genuine good guy'

Ex-South Africa wing Bryan Habana believes Jones will break McCaw's caps record and might have a distant eye on a fourth Lions tour, when they head to South Africa in 2021.

"I don't think there are enough superlatives to explain how much of a legend this game has seen in Alun Wyn," said Habana.

"The way he conducts himself both on and off the pitch... I don't think he's ever been injured. It's phenomenal.

"To play at that level for such a long period of time. You look at the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Brian O'Driscoll, George Gregan - Alun Wyn will go on to become the most-capped Test player of all time.

"If that doesn't tell you about the type of person he is, type of rugby player he is, and the type of respect that he commands then nothing will.

"It's unfortunate that he couldn't help Wales over the line this time but I know there is a Lions tour in two years that he would want to be a part of.

Alun Wyn Jones consoles his Wales players after their 2019 World Cup bronze match loss to New Zealand
Alun Wyn Jones consoles his Wales players after their 2019 World Cup bronze match loss to New Zealand

"I think the game of rugby owes a lot to Alun Wyn and what he means to it, to see the images of him embracing ball boys and mascots, they are things that people sometimes take for granted.

"He's just a genuine good guy. You get quite a few in rugby, which is great for our sport. He probably ranks up there as one of the top in the world."

Jones led Wales to Grand Slam success in 2019 and was named Six Nations player of the tournament.

He made the most tackles in the 2019 World Cup with 79, as Wales finished fourth.

Australian lock John Eales led his nation to World Cup success in 1999 in Wales and recognises the work-rate of a fellow second row.

"Having played in the same position and played maybe half the games he's played, I respect what he's been able to do over a very long career," said Eales.

"The standards he has set himself, it's been quite inspirational.

"I respect the way he carries himself on and off the field. He plays the game hard, he plays it intelligently.

"The teams that he plays in tend to do pretty well. You look at that and say, 'who are the players that are in teams that are consistently winning?' And he's one."

South Africa's John Smit, the 2007 World Cup-winning skipper, believes Jones is an "amazing ambassador" for the game.

"It is always interesting for me as a captain, I look at how other players look towards and speak about the captain and you can just see he is like a father figure to this group," said Smit.

"He has the respect of the team. It is because he lives a consistent life on and off the field.

"He has values that transcends what he does for a living which is rugby and it is who he is as a person."

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