Alun Wyn Jones is widely expected to be selected as captain of the British and Irish Lions when Warren Gatland names his 36-man squad for South Africa on Thursday.
Wales’s Six Nations-winning captain is emerging as Gatland’s choice to lead the touring party ahead of the other contenders for the role including England pair Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.
Former coaches of the 35-year-old, who is the world’s most-capped player with 157 caps, have backed the expected decision and described Jones as the outstanding candidate for the job.
Sean Holley, who coached Jones at Ospreys between 2005 and 2012, said he was a “modern-day Willie John McBride”. McBride, who captained the Lions on their “Invincibles” tour of South Africa in 1974, holds the record for the number of Test appearances (17) and tours (five).
“When you listen to the stories of Willie John McBride, we are going to be talking about Alun Wyn Jones like that in the future,” Holley said. “He is the outstanding candidate in terms of experience and as a captain who led an out-of-form new-regime Wales to a championship this season against all odds. It just shows the presence and the leadership qualities that he has on the field. He has done it at club, international and Lions level and there are not many other candidates who you would take to South Africa who ticks all those boxes.
Jones has played nine successive Tests for the Lions on the past three tours.
“A captain must also be worthy of his place and you have to say on form there is undoubted consistency in his performance and his endurance and durability is unquestioned,” Holley added.
“Alun Wyn also knows what Gats wants, having worked with him for so long. Gats knows Alun Wyn. If the squad is living in a bubble, he wants someone he can trust who can say, ‘right boys, we are doing this’. When he talks everyone listens and he instills confidence and belief in people.”
Shaun Edwards, who was defence coach at Wales from 2008-19 and worked with Jones on the Lions tour of South Africa in 2009, described him as an “all-time great of modern-day rugby”.
“His credentials are there for everyone to see, he has won five Six Nations titles and is an incredibly competitive lad who everybody respects,” said Edwards, who is now defence coach with France.
“He is also very good at mixing with families because he is a family man himself. He always made a fuss of my kids, so there is a softer side to him which you need sometimes on a tour. But you are there for the rugby first and foremost and his record speaks for itself.
“I know this about great players. I had the honour of coaching people like Lawrence Dallaglio, Simon Shaw, Gethin Jenkins and Sam Warburton and when the big games come, they come to play. Alun Wyn Jones is definitely one of those. They thrive on the big games, they thrive on the pressure and the size of the game. I know he will want to win from what happened in 2009 [South Africa won that series 2-1] as I think it will still rankle him that we didn’t win.”
Adam Jones, who played with Jones at the Ospreys, Wales and Lions, said he could not see Gatland looking past the second row.
“Gats know his track record,” said Jones, who toured with the Lions in 2009 and 2013. “When Wales have been under pressure, he has always risen to the challenge and Gats knows that and I can’t see it being anyone else. If some of the other locks had been better than him in the Six Nations Championship then it might have been a different question but for me he has been the stand-out lock.
“Gats has a few choices, Owen Farrell would do an amazing job, Maro Itoje as well, although it is probably a tour too early for him as well. Ken Owens would also be a great choice.
“But I can’t look much past Alun Wyn. It is going to be a tough old tour because of the Covid challenges and it is about how he can keep everyone together.”