Lions captain Jones ‘fit and raring to go’ for first South Africa Test
Long-serving Wales captain Jones returned to the tour less than three weeks after suffering a dislocated left shoulder during the early stages of the 28-10 warm-up win over Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.
The 35-year-old lock was expected to miss the entire South Africa trip and was subsequently replaced as tour captain by experienced Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray.
However, Jones made an extraordinarily quick recovery and proved his readiness to return to action during two training sessions with Wales before returning to South Africa and being reinstated as Lions skipper.
He then featured for 30 minutes off the bench at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday as Warren Gatland’s side completed preparations for the first of three Tests against the reigning world champion Springboks with a seven-try, 49-3 thrashing of the Stormers.
And Lions defence coach Steve Tandy has now confirmed that Jones is available for this weekend’s opening meeting with South Africa at the same venue.
“Al, historically, has done some pretty special things,” Tandy said of his compatriot.
“He’s fit, he’s raring to go. It was only three weeks ago when he was injured but you see the training he’s been doing, he keeps himself in absolutely great shape, so there’ll be no issues there.
“He’s got unbelievable experience and his leadership qualities are outstanding as well.”
Tandy said that there are now “just one or two things to confirm” in terms of the final team selection for Saturday after a long and intense selection meeting held on Sunday evening that featured no shortage of “robust discussions”.
Only Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is absent for the Lions due to an Achilles injury, with Robbie Henshaw fit again and Liam Williams having been expected to complete the necessary return-to-play protocols on Monday after the head injury suffered in the defeat by South Africa ‘A’ in Cape Town last week.
The team is expected to be confirmed after training on Tuesday.
“A lot of players have put their hands up and it is a great place for us as coaches to be,” Tandy said.
“There will be bitter disappointment, but I believe that within this squad there is such a tight connection that everyone will be geared up to winning that first test whether you are in the 23 or not.”
Meanwhile, South Africa are waiting to discover if their own influential captain, Siya Kolisi, will be able to lead his team against the Lions this weekend.
Kolisi – one of 14 Springbok players to previously test positive for Covid-19 – only rejoined the squad in Cape Town on Monday after isolating for 10 days in Johannesburg.
The flanker will now undergo medical tests to determine his fitness and will hope to receive the green light to resume training on Tuesday.
“They [Kolisi and wing Makazole Mapimpi] will go for the final test today. Anything can happen in terms of results. Some positive news would be good,” said South Africa assistant coach Mzwandile Stick.
“We trust the protocols in place and won’t do anything stupid. We’ve got great players in our squad so if Siya is not fit, we trust the other guys to play in that position.
“A guy like Rynhardt Elstadt, currently he is winning everything in front of him. Marco Van Staden we saw against the Bulls on Saturday. Jasper Wiese…any of those guys can be selected and we’d trust them to do a job for us.”