The New Zealand lock pays tribute to rugby’s most-capped player
Sam Whitelock on “awesome” Alun Wyn Jones
Sam Whitelock first captained New Zealand when they faced Wales in Cardiff in 2017 – and there was a familiar face opposite him at the coin toss.
Alun Wyn Jones was Wales skipper that day and the two locks had played against each other ten times by that point.
Whitelock faced Wales three times in 2010 – his first year of Test rugby – and also came up against Jones in the autumn of 2014 as well as in two June Internationals two years later, while in 2017 they lined up on opposite sides five times.
Jones led the British & Irish Lions to a 12-3 win over Whitelock’s Crusaders before they were both in their teams’ respective engine rooms for the three-Test series that ended in a draw. Then came the November meeting at the Principality Stadium.
It’s a match the All Blacks won 33-18, but that moment before kick-off also stands out to Whitelock. He says: “One very special memory I have is both of us being captain, Wales versus All Blacks. It was my first one and he made me laugh straightaway at the coin toss.
“I was pretty nervous and pretty excited, so it was great to have a familiar face there who just loves playing the game and loves the friendships that are built while you’re out there playing against each other.”
Jones now holds the record for the most Test appearances having played in 157 Internationals – 148 for Wales and nine for the Lions – over the past 15 years. In the new issue of Rugby World magazine, a record breakers special, we speak to Jones’s team-mates and coaches past and present to find out what sets him apart.
But what’s he like to play against? Former Australia lock James Horwill says: “He’s a barometer for Wales’ success. Any team with Alun Wyn in is resilient, they don’t go away. That probably describes him well too!”
Whitelock points to Jones’s “massive work ethic”, the sheer amount of graft he gets through, and he also highlights the need to be on your game with words as well as deeds.
“He’s one of the guys who loves interacting on the field and I’m a little bit that way at times too,” says Whitelock, who is a centurion himself having played 122 Tests for the All Blacks.
“It’s quite good to have that friendly banter and after the game it’s all forgotten. He’s pretty quick-witted, too. You’re competing with each other physically and as a team, but it’s good to have a bit of that personal battle, too, with the tongue and how quick your wit is.”
Quips aside, Whitelock appreciates the significance of Jones’s achievement in playing for so long and so often at international level.
“Alun Wyn is a great man and awesome to play against. He works really hard and has done it for a long time too, so for him to play 150 Test matches is amazing. You can’t achieve those things without a great work ethic and obviously being a great rugby player as well.
“I’ve had a few beers with him after great games. It’s always fun to yarn and talk away. Both of us being a little bit older than most probably makes it a bit easier on that level rather than some of the young guys.
“He’s an awesome man and just what he’s done for his club and his country, and the way he goes out there and puts it on the line every week, and he’s done that for more than 150 Test matches is amazing.”
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