By David Williams
The clock is counting down to ‘full time’ on the amazing rugby career of the world’s most capped player, Alun Wyn Jones.
He will be back at the venue he graced for so long, and with such distinction, in a Welsh jersey this weekend when he captains the Barbarians team that will face Warren Gatland’s home side in a special, post-World Cup fixture.
"All good things come to an end"
— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) November 1, 2023
While the game will be Alun Wyn’s final appearance as a professional player on Welsh soil, the man who has made 170 Test appearances for Wales and the Lions still has two weeks to run on his ‘medical joker’ contract at Toulon and could make two more appearances in the Top 14 before he finally hangs up his boots.
“It’s been a long time coming – 18 years in fact. I’ve been chasing an egg for a long time, so to have the last one in the stadium is going to be special,” said the 38-year-old former Ospreys, Wales and British & Irish Lions captain.
“It will be with a different team, but they are a great group. They belong to everyone and it’s going to be fun.
“Everyone is just here to play. It’s surreal in a way but with the Baa-Baas you’re almost more connected in a way. It resonates for some reason, because the higher you go on the playing ladder the more T’s you’ve got to cross and I’s you find to dot.
“When you’re with the Baa-Baas it’s just ‘here’s a ball’ – and there might be a pint or two! You have fun but you know what you’re representing.
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) November 1, 2023
“I’m playing for them now because I missed out on two opportunities in the past. Once when I was injured after the World Cup and once because it was after a World Cup, but I was rested.
“The game against the World XV at Twickenham earlier this year was great and then we had the one in Swansea three days later. To be honest, I thought that was my last.
“But I’ve ended up doing a Shane (Williams that is) – it’s the last, the last, the last! It’s been three different occasions, but they’ve all felt the same.”
Having played so many times at the home of Welsh rugby, for Wales and the Ospreys, he will certainly know his way around, although heading into the ‘away’ dressing room might be a little bit different.
Alun Wyn Jones won 158 caps for Wales between 2006-2023.
Wales played its 1st Test match in 1881. For a player to have won 158 caps back then he would have had to play in every match from 1881 until 1934!
Upon his Test retirement, Jones had played in 20% of all Wales games. pic.twitter.com/Iw5UxUWrMU
— James Stafford 🇺🇦 (@jpstafford) October 23, 2023
He’ll have to turn right at the top of the stairs when he comes into the stadium, rather than left.
“It is going to be emotional by the sounds of it, but in any walk of life, all good things come to an end. I’ve always been safe in the knowledge that I knew that was going to happen,” he added.
“When and where isn’t always on your terms, whether it’s through injury, selection or whatever. So, to be able to do it at home against Wales for the Barbarians – it’s not a Heineken Cup final or a World Cup final – but the emotive elements for me personally are pretty plain to see.
“I have another two weeks with Toulon. It was a short term thing for the World Cup period, and there are no murmurings about me continuing after that so that will be me.
“I never thought I would go to France and have that little opportunity to play there, so I’m grateful to Toulon for giving me that opportunity. It’s been invaluable for me from the point of validating certain things in my career.
“As to what will I miss the most – everything! I enjoy the routine, the players, the camaraderie, and the challenge of winning games. Things change as you get a little bit older and I’ve enjoyed, and taken pride in, seeing guys come through the academy and play for Wales and the Lions.”
Alun Wyn won’t be the only Wales great playing for one last time on the international stage at the weekend.
He will be joined by former regional teammate Justin Tipuric in the Baa-Baas pack, with the pair of them facing Leigh Halfpenny in the Wales ranks.
“I am not the only one finishing something on the weekend with Pence and Tips as well. We’ve played in great games together and to be able to share an occasion like this on the weekend will be special – it’s going to be a great day,” added Alun Wyn.
“Pence is one of the most professional and gifted kickers I’ve ever seen. Tips, pound-for-pound, is probably the Swiss army knife rugby player. There is not much he can’t do with the ball, he’s up there with Shane in what he can do with the ball.”
And after the final whistle blows to end one of the all-time great careers in the 142-year history of Welsh rugby, what’s next for the big man?
“I’m going to try and catch up with the kids because they are growing up too fast. I’m going to make up for the last eight years, when I’ve been too far away,” he said.
“I want to try and have a bit of a break and reassess what I am going to do. When you get on the hamster wheel it keeps spinning even when you are thinking you have a break.”