Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones lauded the bonds between rugby, family and community on the eve of becoming the first player in international rugby to appear 150 times for their country.
Jones returns from double shoulder surgery to feature for Wales for the first time in 20 weeks when they face Italy on Saturday in Cardiff in the last round of the Six Nations.
The match will mark his 150th Wales cap, and world record-extending 162nd cap, including 12 for the British and Irish Lions.
He will walk out of the players’ tunnel at Principality Stadium with his two young daughters, giving the occasion extra significance for 36-year-old Jones.
When he broke New Zealand great Richie McCaw’s world record of 148 test caps in October 2020 in Llanelli, Jones couldn’t have family present. No crowds were allowed while Wales was in lockdown in the pandemic. His request for a special exemption to have family with him was declined by the Welsh government.
But his wife Anwen and daughters will be with him on Saturday, and a crowd of 60,000-plus.
“To do this one in front of my home crowd, to have my family there and my wife and daughters is huge for me,” Jones said in a video released by the Welsh Rugby Union on Friday. “That’s the significance of the milestone or whatever you want to call it and the day.
“To be the first to do anything is an honor and a privilege, but I think to do it for Wales and to pull this jersey on as many times as I have isn’t wasted on me, particularly when you realize what rugby means to the nation.
“I’ve got people here that saw me come into this squad as not far off being a child and now they’re going to see me taking my children out for 150 appearances. On many levels, I think Welsh rugby and the family connection and the local community is heightened for me. Irrelevant of the persona people might think of me, I’m hugely proud and that connection isn’t wasted on me.”
Jones hasn’t played any rugby since he dislocated his left shoulder in October against New Zealand.
He dislocated it a first time last June before the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, but stunned observers by coming back four weeks later to play in the test series.
He’s returned this week ahead of schedule, again. He said he and the medical team put together a comeback plan within two weeks of the New Zealand game, and he worked to a target. He was cleared last Saturday to play.
“In fairness to the boys, as someone who has come in late on, they’ve been great,” Jones said. “I think for the most part they are pleased to see me back — I would hope they are, anyway.”
Saturday’s test also marks the 100th Wales cap for Dan Biggar, who took over the captaincy when Jones was injured.
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