Alun Wyn Jones admits it would be a “travesty” if British and Irish Lions tours were to fade from the international calendar after his own illustrious career in the red jersey ended in heartache.
The Lions are having to fight increasingly hard for their place in a cluttered global programme, with this summer’s ultimately fruitless trip to South Africa squeezed from six weeks to five.
Head coach Warren Gatland has repeatedly stated his desire for prospective series to be protected when rugby’s powerbrokers discuss the future of the world schedule.
Veteran captain Jones, who conceded the agonising 2-1 defeat to the Springboks will be his fourth and last series following appearances in 2009, 2013 and 2017, echoed Gatland’s view and believes Lions contests remain among the pinnacle of the sport.
He said: “It’s funny, being involved in 2009, I remember the furore after that – the Lions is this, the Lions is that. Should it exist?
“I think the commercialisation has increased with the scope with what is going on globally at the minute.
“In its most basic concept it is something that is very special and it ignites the imagination in children and adults and it is something that rugby has hung its hat on for a long, long time.
“It is a big element of rugby that gives a lot of people across the globe something to look forward to.
“It is up there with all of those international competitions and rugby World Cups. It is very special and if rugby were to lose it, it would be a travesty.”
History repeated itself on Saturday evening as a late Morne Steyn penalty secured glory for South Africa, just as it did on Jones’ debut tour 12 years ago.
The Wales lock – rugby’s most-capped player – fought back tears at the end of the decisive 19-16 loss in Cape Town.
With a trip to Australia pencilled in for 2025, he used a forceful outgoing speech to remind team-mates of the importance of being selected.
“I’m never going to put this jersey on again, I am never going to have this chance again,” said the 35-year-old, who overcame a dislocated shoulder to face the Springboks.
“I made a point to the guys that whoever is on the next one, make sure you go as hard as hell because it is a very special privilege to be involved in.
“I’ve already had a bit of stick for being overly emotional and I don’t give a f**k if people think I’m over-emotional, that’s what it means to me.
“Sometimes it’s easier to use the agent of a bit of raw language, so I apologise for that.”
Lions tours date back to 1888, with this year’s instalment – one of the most toxic in history due to off-field arguments and serious question marks about the on-field offering – in constant jeopardy due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gatland’s men were punished for not fully capitalising on a 1-0 series lead or their first half dominance in the decider.
Jones reflected on the painful climax but was eager to avoid appearing bitter by adding to criticism of perceived tedious tactics and gamesmanship from the victorious Springboks.
“Credit to South Africa, they won. I’d set a pretty poor example if I was to start doing that now,” he said.
“I’ve played the game long enough to know that whatever I say people won’t be happy with, and people will pull it apart and take it out of context to fit their narrative. On a very basic level, I’ve got to set an example.
“We had our opportunities. To fall (narrowly) short probably hurts more than if it was a bigger loss.”
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