British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones has described his appointment to one of the biggest playing jobs in world rugby as “a huge privilege”.
Jones will lead the Lions in South Africa this summer on what will be his fourth successive tour among the best of British and Irish.
England pair Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell were also viewed as major contenders for the Lions role, but 35-year-old Jones has won head coach Warren Gatland’s vote.
And it provides another significant entry to Jones’ CV – one that already features five Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances.
Jones also holds the world record for most Test match appearances, having clocked up 157 in Wales and Lions colours, and his powers show no sign of waning as he approaches the 16th year of his international career.
And the news was given to him by Gatland last weekend – after an initial missed call.
“I missed the phone call because I was doing something at the back of the house,” Jones said. “I sort of knew what it was about, so I called him (Gatland) back!
“He said ‘I would like you to lead the Lions’. To hear those words is very special. I was more than happy to accept.
“Initially, the draw is to get into the squad, and then anything can happen from there and you have your hat in the mix to be selected.
“Obviously, having the armband is a huge privilege, but initially it was all about the squad selection, and I have a huge amount of pride to add this to the CV.
“But there is a lot of work to do and some huge games to face.”
Asked how he relayed the news to his family, Jones added: “Obviously, I told my wife. The kids probably don’t understand.
“They know dad plays in red on TV – my eldest thinks I have played for Man United a few times, but I have got to explain it is the right colour, but wrong sport!
“As a child growing up, as a supporter and now as a professional, the significance of this honour isn’t lost on me.
“As a rugby player you want to be involved in those Test matches this summer, but there is a long way to go and a lot of rugby to play before then.
“Once you become a Lion, you might not see people for a while or interact, but you are all connected through the jersey across the home nations, and that is something very, very special.
“It is hard to explain, but I like to think it is something that hasn’t changed from amateur through to professionalism. Growing up, you want to play for your country and dream about playing for the Lions.
“It is a huge thank you to my wife, my sister and my mum, for all their support through all the tough times, and particularly the good times.”
Jones has played in nine Lions Tests across the last three tours, and he now follows fellow Welshmen like Sam Warburton, Phil Bennett and John Dawes in leading the tourists as captain.