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26-minute run completes AW Jones' miracle 21-day Lions comeback

By Liam Heagney

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Alun Wyn Jones completed his miracle return to rugby, playing 26 minutes of the Lions’ 49-3 win over the Stormers in Cape Town just three weeks after a shoulder dislocation sustained versus Japan in Edinburgh was supposed to have ruled the 2021 skipper out of the entire tour to South Africa.

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The most capped Test player of all-time played just seven minutes of the June 26 match at Murrayfield and he was ruled out of the trip to the home of the 2019 World Cup champions within an hour of the full-time whistle in Scotland.

While Jones was replaced in the squad by Adam Beard and as tour captain by Conor Murray, a scan soon diagnosed that the damage wasn’t as bad as initially feared for the soon-to-be 36-year-old veteran lock.

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He went training with Wales last week and following a full contact training session on Tuesday, Jones was recalled by the Lions the next day and he arrived in Cape Town on Thursday to the news that he would be taking a place on the bench for this Saturday’s game with the Stormers, the final preparation match before next Saturday’s first Test versus the Springboks.

Gatland said in a pre-game TV interview that it was important for Jones to get around a 20-minute hit-out versus the Stormers to prove his fitness heading into the Test week preparations. “It’s important for him,” said the Lions boss to Sky Sports.

“He is an incredibly competitive person and he has made a miraculous recovery coming out here, so we want to give him a reasonable amount of game time in the second half and hopefully he is up to speed and then he puts himself into contention next week to start or come in off the bench. We will have a look at that, see how he goes and see if he needs another week of training – so we haven’t made up our mind.”

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Jones eventually came into the action on 54 minutes wearing the No19 shirt against the Stormers, replacing the impressive try-scoring Beard and getting immediately stuck in at a scrum where the Lions, who were leading at the time by 28-3, were punished for a collapse by referee Wayne Barnes.

He was then quickly involved in a number of ruck entries and tackles which tested the durability of his left shoulder and he even threatened to score with a 68th-minute carry to the line in a move that was eventually finished off by Zander Fagerson.

By the time the full-time whistle went, the match statistics section on the Lions website was showing that Jones made four metres from five carries, put in seven tackles, made two passes and gave three offloads – the sort of all-action contribution that is primed to now see him lead the Lions out as skipper next weekend against the Springboks.

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Ex-Lions boss Ian McGeechan and ex-skipper Sam Warburton don’t think Jones will start, however. “He has played. He had proved he is fit. Is he at Test match level for physicality and game involvement? That for me is still a question mark,” pondered McGeechan on TV.

Warburton added: “I agree and it’s not a bad thing if he just goes on the bench for the first Test, you go Maro (Itoje) and (Courtney) Lawes and then he is back for the decisive second and third and then he is fully raring to go. I was impressed today when he came off the bench, he was getting involved but with his organisational skills and how vocal he was, you could see him take control as soon as he came on. That is so important to have that leadership at the end of the game.

“That is not putting him down. It’s let’s be safe than sorry and play the long game, go on the bench and have another 30 minutes in the first Test and then you will be absolutely raring to go in the second and third, the decisive Tests, when they will need him.”

Ronan O’Gara, another ex-Lions talisman, disagreed with McGeechan and Warburton. “It’s so tricky. I can’t decide in my head in terms of how he has defied a medical decision in terms of how he has got back but here he is. Presence in sport on the pitch is absolutely huge and for me, he is starting, he is captain next week.”

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26-minute run completes AW Jones' miracle 21-day Lions comeback

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