Wales legend-in-the-making Alun Wyn Jones is ebbing towards the end of his career, and the four-time British and Irish Lions tourist has emphasised just how difficult it will be to leave the sport
Retirement is rarely a simple concept for any professional athlete, much less so for one as universally revered as Alun Wyn Jones.
But that date is inevitably ticking closer for a player who has repeatedly ripped up the rule books when it comes to longevity at the elite level.
There aren’t many rugby CVs in the northern hemisphere that match up with that of the current Wales captain.
One key indicator that the end of Jones’ career may be nigh is the impending release of his autobiography, ‘Belonging’, which is due to hit shelves on Thursday.
It’s therein the 35-year-old discussed the effect it will have when he eventually stops playing, as one passage reads: “When I play my last game, part of me will die and I’ll accept it.”
The one-club man is on the verge of his 17th season with Ospreys, which gets underway on Sunday, September 26, when his side visit Newport’s Dragons in their maiden United Rugby Championship fixture.
Despite his age, Jones remains a crucial member of Toby Booth’s squad at the Swansea.com Stadium, not to mention an integral part of Wayne Pivac’s Welsh setup.
But none of those responsibilities are based on reputation alone, and Jones has said he’ll take his leave when he’s no longer able to meet his usually towering standards.
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The 6’6” veteran appeared on BBC Breakfast and Radio 5 Live Sport on Wednesday to promote the publication of his book, telling hosts he’ll play on as long as he’s wanted.
“This is the thing that people forget – I don’t select myself,” Jones said.
“Conversations have been ongoing. You get to that magic number of 30 and people start talking about: ‘What are you going to do next?’
“Touch wood, the body is okay but I’ve had a few periods this year that I didn’t plan on.
“I’m still enjoying it and that’s the main thing. If I didn’t enjoy it and my numbers weren’t stacking up and I didn’t perform, then I’d probably take the hard decision myself rather than put it in the hands of someone else.
“I’m still going. I’ve hopefully got a bit more left in the tank. As long as my numbers stack up, I’ll keep going.”
The recent series defeat in South Africa will undoubtedly be Jones’ last experience playing in a Lions jersey, but there’s little telling how far he may yet go for club and country.
After all, the second-row star thought his most recent Lions tour was over after dislocating his shoulder before the squad had even flown to South Africa, only to recover from the blow in four weeks.
In reference to the accumulating bumps and bruises that come part and parcel with a rugby career, Jones was asked if he held concerns for his long-term health and replied: “It changes, I think.
“When you’re younger, you have enthusiasm.
“I think when you’ve got a bit more responsibility with kids and stuff like that, you definitely think about it.
“But you have to put your faith in the system and that’s what I’ve done.”
Pivac has a job replacing Wales’ cap record-holder as both a captain and what he offers the team, though the generations that follow will ultimately benefit from his example.
Jones—who turns 36 on Sunday—has formed a great deal of his identity around what he offers as a rugby player, but it’s a part of him he’s ready to leave behind when the day comes.