It is that time of year again. The Six Nations are imminent, so imminent in fact that you can practically hear the constant ringing of the tills in Malones.
The Six Nations always matters, it’s the annual European tournament where new legends can be born and old stalwarts can fall. Indeed, a useful case in point being the fall of Sam Warburton and the rise of Alun Wyn Jones within the Wales set-up.
Warburton was the go-to open side flanker for Wales and throughout his career has notched up a number of impressive accolades. For instance, Warburton skippered Wales to that momentous 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam and has won 69 caps for Wales, with 49 of them being as captain.
At the tender age of 24 the flanker also led the 2013 British and Irish Lions to victory for the first time since 1997. Warburton was a newly born Welsh legend, arguably up there with Llewellyn the Great. Many avid supporters even thought he was the Hercules of modern Welsh rugby union.
In the last few seasons Warburton has had a startling fall from grace culminating last week with his captaincy being taken off him. Temporary Wales head coach Rob Howley told the BBC that he has spoken to Warburton about him switching from open to blind-side flanker because of the strength of competition he faces in his own position.
Howley added, however, that he will be dropped from the team sheet until he gets his “mojo back”. Even with Warburton’s long list of lengthy injuries this is a huge blow for someone who once headed the most feared back row in Europe.
Wales have never been short of rugby demi-gods and a number of players deserved to take Warburton’s place as skipper, but Howley’s choice of Alun Wyn Jones is exceptional and interesting. Howley has said of Jones that “he is the first name on the team sheet” because of “his vast experience, as a player and a leader will help drive this squad forward and I believe he will flourish in the role.”
Flourish he will because he has already flourished for Wales. As it stands Jones has won 105 caps for Wales, six for the Lions, and is Wales’ go to captain in reserve, having also captained the Lions to victory in their third test in 2013. Wyn Jones is the man to lead Wales forward.
As I said previously, the Six Nations matters, but this is the tournament before the Lions tour so it takes on arguably even greater importance. This is why the selection of Wyn Jones as captain is interesting as it’s not a secret that Warren Gatland is the Lions coach – he was even spotted around Edinburgh having official Lions photos taken.
As it stands with all the major bookmakers, Wyn Jones is favourite to skipper the 2017 side. Jones captaining Wales this tournament is also a major indication of Gatland’s preferences.
Captaining Wales this season will give Jones the chance to grow into the role and get that experience as an established captain and not just a reserve one. Being the captain of Wales this season will also give him the chance to hone those leadership skills ready for the big tournament in the summer.
Jones also has the right temperament. He is calm and collected but fervently passionate about his rugby and his country.
Dylan Hartley, on the other hand is unpredictable, fiery and a New Zealander. If Jones remains injury free during the Six Nations I think we’re looking at our 2017 Lions captain.
In previous interviews, Jones has said he hates the tabloids and journalists using part of his name to create funny headlines if Wales win. But I think on this occasion I can be forgiven for saying that by choosing Alun Wyn Jones as captain, Howley and Gatland are onto a ‘wynner’. Wales and the Lions will definitely hope so.
Image courtesy of Nick Richards