TOKYO, 18 Oct – When Alun Wyn Jones leads his team out against France on Sunday, he will make his 19th World Cup appearance, a record for a Welshman.
Not bad for a once rotund teenager who was told by his school coach back in Swansea, 'you weren’t made to run fast, you were made to hit rucks'.
Jones, pictured above rallying his troops, has now been hitting rucks on the international stage for 13 years, a testament to his fitness, resilience and sheer bloody-mindedness in this most unforgiving of sports.
Since 2006, he has been an omnipresent cog in the engine room of the Wales team across four Rugby World Cups.
Sunday’s quarter-final will mark his 141st test for Wales and the British & Irish Lions, equalling Brian O'Driscoll's record for a player from the original Five Nations teams. Only New Zealand’s Richie McCaw (148) and Italy’s Sergio Parisse (142) have played more.
Jones rarely features in highlights reels. Instead, one needs only to cast an eye in the direction of his battered, bruised, yet defiant figure at the end of matches to garner the scope of his contribution.
So far at Rugby World Cup 2019, he has tackled with a relentless drive which belies his 34 years.
He averages one tackle every five minutes at this tournament, a rate beaten only by Scotland’s Jonny Gray among second-rows. With his capacity to lead the scrum, and steal lineouts – he has claimed two so far at this tournament – he can drive his team-mates on and shift momentum when their energy is draining.
As Wales coach Warren Gatland puts it: "The bigger the occasion, the bigger the challenge, the more he tends to thrive."
Jones was a towering figure in Wales' historic 29-25 pool stage win over Australia, the first time they had beaten the Wallabies in a World Cup encounter since 1987.
He led from the front throughout, never more so than when Australia ramped up the pressure during the second half. Overall he made 25 tackles that day. To put this into perspective, only four players have made 25 or more tackles in a match so far at this tournament
Ahead of the tournament, Jones gave an interview in which he cited Ice Guardians – a documentary about the physical brutality endured by the legendary enforcers of Canada’s National Hockey League – as a particular source of inspiration for his own career.
"At the end of the documentary, one of the players is asked what they’d do differently if he had his time again and he replies, 'I’d do it all again, I’d just go harder'. I loved that," he said.
When Jones does finally call time on one of world rugby’s most remarkable careers, 'just go harder' would be an apt epitaph.
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