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'I love him': Eddie Jones changes his tune on Alun Wyn Jones

By Liam Heagney
Alun Wyn Jones takes a conversion at Twickenham (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Eddie Jones has paid tribute to Alun Wyn Jones, the legendary Wales lock who captained the Barbarians to their 48-42 win in a 14-try thriller at Twickenham on Sunday. There had been an expectation that the 37-year-old would go on to feature for his country at the age of 38 when the Rugby World Cup starts in September.

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However, he instead announced his Test rugby retirement earlier this month and has now played in his final international match in the Jones-coached Baa-Baas’ victory over Steve Hansen’s World XV in front of 33,000 in London.

Following an excellent performance, Jones attempted to sign off with two late conversion attempts but he missed both. “Disgraceful,” quipped coach Jones. “But he has got plenty of plusses, so we will excuse him for that.”

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The Barbarians experience is second to none | Being Barbarians

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The Barbarians experience is second to none | Being Barbarians

The past week, though, enabled Jones, the coach, to gain a very different perspective with Jones, the warrior, finally on his side and not the opposition, as had been the case during the Australian’s seven years in charge of England.

“There is two things,” Jones pondered in the aftermath. “For very few players it ends like a fairytale. That is the reality, it ends probably on someone else’s terms, not on your own. I am not sure, I haven’t chatted to him about it [what happened with Wales].

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“Secondly, he will be remembered as one of the great competitors. If you look at the Welsh side that he has led over the last period of time, they have competed hard in every game that he has played in. He has captained the Lions, they have competed hard.

“He is one of those players that you hated coaching against because you knew he was going to be at it, you knew he was going to be at the referee, and you knew he was going to do everything to get his team to be in the hunt. Having coached him today I have changed my attitude towards him, I love him!”

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The Killik Cup match programme amusingly suggested lock Jones was a mere 23-year-old, listing his date of birth in the Barbarians’ pen pictures section of the publication as June 11, 1999, when in reality it is September 19, 1985.

Players playing at the highest level in their late 30s is a trend that coach Jones predicted rugby will see more of in the future. “We are seeing players play more and more. The advent of sports science and better strength and conditioning means that players can play longer, that is the reality,” he reckoned.

“(Jimmy) Gopperth has played until 39 in the Premiership, (Johnny) Sexton is going to play in the World Cup at 37. If you would have said that 10 years ago people would have said, ‘You’re nuts’. And now we have got players playing in their late 30s, so we are going to see for the really good players long careers, and for the average players it is probably going to be the same.”

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