JUST two and a half weeks after being ruled out of the Lions squad to tour South Africa, Alun Wyn Jones has been welcomed back to the party. He will arrive in Cape Town tomorrow [Thursday] and have to isolate until Monday.
The Welsh lock dislocated his shoulder in the game against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday 26 June, and later that evening the Lions announced that he would have to be omitted from the squad, with his place as captain going to Irish scrum-half Conor Murray. (Justin Tipuric was also ruled out of the squad after being injured in that game, and Adam Beard and Josh Navidi were called up to replace their fellow-Welshmen).
But within days of the Lions arriving in South Africa, Jones said he was increasingly hopeful of making a return in time to take part in the Test series. Lions head coach Warren Gatland made only a cautiously optimistic response to Jones’ remarks.
However, following a training session with the Welsh national squad on Tuesday and a medical assessment this morning (Wednesday), Jones has been pronounced fit to play again. “We are delighted to welcome Alun Wyn back,” Gatland said in a statement released by the Lions.
“It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows Alun Wyn that since injuring his shoulder against Japan, he’s done everything he can to get himself back. It’s remarkable really when you consider it’s just 18 days since he left us in Edinburgh.
“He’s been training with the Wales squad at the Vale since last week and yesterday he had a proper hit out. Following assessment from the medical staff this morning we’re satisfied he’s fit to return.
“He’s obviously raring to go and from what I’ve seen on video and the feedback we’ve received, he’s certainly not been holding himself back in training. He was really getting stuck in yesterday. It’s a massive boost for the Lions to welcome a player of Alun Wyn’s stature back.”
Good to talk
Gatland was asked after Wednesday evening’s match against South Africa ‘A’ about how he will manage Wyn Jones’ return with regard to Conor Murray, who took over captaincy of the squad after the injury.
“We’ll just wait until he arrives tomorrow then sit down and have a conversation about where we o from here,” he explained. “He’ll have a two or three days of isolation before he can start fully training with us next Monday, so we’ll just re-integrate him back into the camp, and I’ll sit down with him and Conor and have a chat about where we go in the rest of the tour.
Gatland added that Jones coming straight into the Test XV is by no means a foregone conclusion.
“He [Jones] hasn’t had any rugby for the last three weeks even hough he has been taking a full part in training so it is going to be conversation about what we do with the team, because I think in the game at the moment, having guys who can come off the bench and make a difference is incredibly important.”
Jones will now fly to Cape Town tomorrow (Thursday) to join up with the squad.
Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher has also been called up and will travel to South Africa with Jones.
“I’m delighted to announce Ronan will join up with the squad,” said Gatland.
“There’s no injuries to the three hookers out here, but we think it’s prudent to bring in cover in that position ahead of the Test series.”