As the Ospreys prepare for their ultimate test on Saturday – a clash against mighty Saracens in the European Champions Cup, Harri Morgan has been imagining his own tough examination and the only man in Wales who might be up to the task . . . the returning Alun Wyn Jones.
Complete this sentence – Alun Wyn Jones is a great leader because….
As I racked Brain:\Rugby\Wales\2006-Present for the top answer, I realised that there was one game that would certainly be the Ospreys lock’s go to response should he be faced with a competency based interview (unlikely) and the inevitable ‘give us an example of a time you have shown strong leadership?’ question.
Alun Wyn could sit back, light a cigar, and invite them to relive the afternoon of Saturday 16th March 2019, Wales v Ireland – the Grand Slam game.
Alas, he probably wouldn’t get the job due to an unfortunate breach of legislation on smoking in the workplace. But I digress.
The Wales captain’s highlights package was comprehensive and commenced with a show of humility before the game had begun as he handed his anthem jacket to a shivering mascot.
From there on, he proceeded to blast out one impassioned ‘Gwlad’ after the next.
Then, there was the moment that defined his importance to the team – both as a world class second row and a captain – the roar of relief from the home fans as their man rose to his feet after what most feared to be a game-ending knee injury.
A knock, in spite of which, he went about his job of work in an unrelenting and omnipresent manner – a non-negotiable. Then, with the final whistle blown and the job done, there was the beautiful ‘I love you’ embrace with Jon Davies that said all you need to know about the impact he has on his colleagues and the regard in which they hold him.
Bloody good day for you, that, skip.
The reality is that as outsiders, you and I are ill-qualified to offer anything approaching such an authoritative body of work on the how, why or what when it comes to his leadership qualities.
What it is that he does, or says, on a day-to-day basis that renders him talismanic to those who march in his shadow on to the turf come Saturday afternoon.
As fans, for the most part, we are limited to an 80-minute cross section of the overall performance process. We rush to results-led bipolar assumptions that we convince ourselves are well-founded opinion after three, or maybe four, pints – depending on the proof and level of substance consumed. Drink responsibly.
As such, when we get a moment like the Ospreys’ press conference earlier this week – where Alun Wyn Jones spoke with the type of uncompromising honesty that one expects is normally reserved for the privileged few – it is important to dwell on how fortunate Welsh rugby is to have a leader and bloke of his stature and class.
His timing and words were considered, deliberate and as impassioned as even his loudest ‘Gwlad’.
This matters to him, a lot. He is ready to return to playing, ready to contribute to a team that desperately needs his positive influence.
The great second row forward is back in a position where he feels comfortable, knowing that he can back up words with his actions in the team environment and most importantly, out in the middle.
Of course, his gravitas within the organisation and the global game allowed him to be frank in expressing his dissatisfaction at the way that the ‘business’ has been run over a period of time.
Comments for which a lower ranked employee may well have faced an accusation of ‘personal misconduct’ from those on high.
However, his perceived immunity shouldn’t detract from any leadership kudos that he receives for shunning expectation that he should be a ‘yes man’ to those who pay his wages.
We should, instead, celebrate his leadership in speaking up, supporting his lions and asking questions of the donkeys up in mission control.
He didn’t need to do it, but the Ospreys as a rugby entity desperately needed this intervention.
Now, for Saracens. Alun Wyn has gone in to bat for the boys – and there’s no better opportunity for the boys to produce a performance that re-pays the faith and the favour.