Alun Wyn Jones could make remarkable return to Lions squad after rapid recovery

Alun Wyn Jones could be on the brink of rejoining the British and Irish Lions squad after seeing dramatic progress in his recovery from the dislocated shoulder that appeared to have ended his tour before it had even begun.

Alun Wyn Jones injured his shoulder in the British and Irish Lions' send-off game against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, 2021. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Alun Wyn Jones injured his shoulder in the British and Irish Lions' send-off game against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, 2021. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Jones, who was the Lions captain, sustained the injury six minutes into the send-off match against Japan in Edinburgh on June 26 but is now training with Wales and Warren Gatland will make a decision on Tuesday whether to summon him to South Africa.

“A few weeks ago we didn’t think there was an option and he’s been back fully training with Wales. He’s trained this week with them,” said Gatland, the Lions head coach.

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“I think he’s doing a double session tomorrow [Tuesday] with them and we’ll have to see what the outcome of that is.

“He’s made a remarkable recovery from that injury which isn’t as bad as they first thought.

“That’s a real positive and it would be a boost to the squad having someone of his experience and calibre to come in.”

Gatland first raised the possibility of Jones making a “miracle” recovery shortly after arriving in South Africa a fortnight ago.

The Lions head coach revealed that because of the 35-year-old Wales captain’s age, shortcuts could be taken during his rehabilitation in a bid to restore him to full fitness in time for the Test series.

There is a chance Alun Wyn Jones will rejoin the Lions squad. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

And that prospect has moved a step closer with Gatland now admitting his return is a “possibility” as he waits on the medical report that will shape his decision over the next 24 hours.

The Lions were left reeling by Jones’ cruel misfortune so early in the match at Murrayfield and resigned themselves to facing the world champion Springboks without their talisman and the game’s most capped player.

If the original tour captain is given the all-clear to rejoin the squad at their new base outside Cape Town, then his first meaningful opportunity to play will be Saturday’s clash with the Stormers, which arrives a week before the first Test.

Maro Itoje, the England second row who once again was expected to pack down alongside his 2017 Lions team-mate, would welcome his return.

Conor Murray, left, and Dan Biggar will be the British & Irish Lions halfback pairing against South Africa A in Cape Town. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

“Alun Wyn is a great player. He was our captain for this tour and we want the best players here,” Itoje said.

“He comes with a massive amount of experience. This is his fourth tour. He’s a great player and a great person to have around.

“Initially everybody thought he was out. He thought himself that he was out! But all things can happen with hard work and preparation and dedication. He has that in abundance.

“If he’s able to come out, I’m sure the Lions will sort him out with a nice private jet and he’ll fly quickly straight over to Cape Town.”

The Lions are back in action on Wednesday when they take on a strong South Africa A side in Cape Town.

The home team’s squad includes 18 players from the 2019 World Cup winning roster, including winger Cheslin Kolbe, scrum-half Faf de Klerk and flanker and former world player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit. It is an ‘A’ team in name only.

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Veteran Morne Steyn, now 37 and who played against the Lions 12 years ago, will start at stand-off. The team is captained by Lukanyo Am, the centre who also played in the final win over England in Yokohama.

Conor Murray, who took over as tour captain after Jones’ injury, has welcomed the challenge after the opening three tour matches produced high-scoring victories for the Lions but failed to stretch them.

“I think it’s going to be pretty much a Test match,” said Murray, who will make his first start of the tour at the Cape Town Stadium. “If you look at their line-up it’s going to be a really intense game. It’s going to be a trial run for the Tests, or almost a fourth Test.

“Since we’ve arrived in Cape Town I think players have switched into a more serious mode in terms of our prep and the edge that we have in training. Now having seen the South African A line-up it’s only going to sharpen our focus even more. It’s going to be a real battle, a massive challenge and good prep for what’s to come.”

The Lions are light at stand-off because Owen Farrell has a slight abdominal strain and Finn Russell is out with an Achilles tear. Marcus Smith, the young England fly-half, has arrived in camp to provide cover but needs to get up to speed.

Dan Biggar will start in the No 10 jersey against South Africa A, one of only three players retained in the XV from Saturday’s 71-31 win over the Sharks in Pretoria. The others are Chris Harris, the Scotland centre, who moves to 13 from 12, and England’s Anthony Watson, who shifts from right wing to full-back.

There is no designated stand-off on the bench, which has a six-two split in favour of forwards, but Murray could provide cover at 10, with Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies among the substitutes.

Gatland admitted he was surprised at the strength of the South African A team but thinks the Lions will reap the benefits.

“I probably wasn’t expecting them to be as strong as they are,” said the coach. “They are obviously short of games but I am absolutely delighted with the team they have put out because it helps our preparations immensely.

“We’ll get a bit of a feel as to where we are and what things we need to work on in the ten days leading in to the first Test.”

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