Alun Wyn Jones paid tribute to all those who have gone before him after being confirmed as The British & Irish Lions captain for this summer’s Tour to South Africa.
The 35-year-old Wales legend will look to emulate Willie John McBride in 1974 and Martin Johnson in 1997 by leading the tourists to a series victory against the Springboks.
It will be Jones’ fourth consecutive Tour, 12 years after first donning the famous red shirt for the first time in all three Tests of the dramatic 2009 series defeat in South Africa.
He has won a further six caps for the Lions since then, against Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, with his nine Tests more than any other player in the professional era.
And upon learning Warren Gatland had selected him to be his skipper, Jones reflected on the great players who have previously captained the Lions before him.
“It is a huge privilege to be selected in the squad initially. That is what you want to hear first as a player,” said Jones, who led Wales to the 2021 Six Nations title.
“To have the armband is a privilege in the fact of when you look who has gone before and what they have achieved in this jersey and for their respective home nations.
“I had a call from Gats (Warren Gatland) on Sunday evening, well, a missed call actually. I thought I had better give him a call back. We had a quick chat and I accepted obviously.
“Initially the draw is to get into the squad, and then anything can happen from there and you have your hat in the mix to be selected and obviously having the armband is a huge privilege.
“But initially it was all about the squad selection and I have a huge amount of pride to add this to the CV but there is a lot of work to do and some huge games to face.”
Being selected as Lions captain is the latest honour to be added to Jones’ remarkable CV, which includes five Six Nations titles – three of which were Grand Slams – with Wales.
He also holds the all-time record for the most Test appearances, with 157 during his illustrious 15-year career so far, including the nine consecutive caps won for the tourists.
But South Africa will not be the first time Jones has captained the Lions, with the lock leading the tourists in the decisive third Test win in Sydney against the Wallabies in 2013.
Not being a man prone to self-promotion, Jones admitted he only told his closest inner circle about being awarded the armband again – an achievement steeped in history.
“Obviously [I told] the nearest and dearest, kept it pretty tight on request from Gats for obvious reasons but a lot of these things seem to get out one way or another,” he said.
“I can just tell Gats it was kept tight my end. It is just obviously a hot topic, but it is nice that it is announced now and official.
“As a child growing up, as a supporter and now as a professional, the significance of this honour isn’t lost on me.
“As a rugby player you want to be involved in those Test matches this summer, but there is a long way to go and a lot of rugby to play before then.”
Jones could match fellow Wales and Lions legend Graham Price in South Africa by playing in 12 consecutive Tests and he is well aware of the importance of the tourists.
“I think the word that was definitely used in last couple of Tours I have been on is custodianship,” he said, when asked to explain what the Lions means to him.
“Once you become a Lion you might not see people for a while or interact, but you are all connected through the jersey across the home nations.
“That is something very, very special. It is hard to explain but I like to think it is something that hasn’t changed from amateur through to professionalism.
“Growing up you want to play for your country and dream about playing for the Lions.”
But despite finding out he would be leading the Lions in South Africa on Sunday, Jones revealed he had to wait and find out who would be joining him like everybody else.
“It was just a one to one, no other information is passed on,” he said of the call with Gatland. “As a supporter for so long that is what makes it special, finding out who is selected that way.
“Lions is all about the supporters so the fact they find out at the same time as the players it is really special. This is something I’m hugely proud of and passionate about.”
He added: “I want to say a huge thank you to my wife, my sister and my mum, for all their support through all the tough times and particularly the good times.”
Source – British & Irish Lions by Andy Baber
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Independent misconduct hearing update: Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby – 2 Month Ban
An independent misconduct committee has found that behaviour displayed by SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus towards match officials during this year’s test series between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions constituted misconduct.
The committee was chaired by Christopher Quinlan QC, together with Nigel Hampton QC and Judge Mike Mika (both New Zealand).
Six charges were brought by World Rugby against Rassie Erasmus for various breaches of World Rugby Regulation 18 and World Rugby’s Code of Conduct. The charges in summary were that Mr Erasmus:
- threatened a match official that unless a requested meeting took place, he would publish footage containing clips criticising the match official’s performance and then making good on that threat; published or permitted to be published the Erasmus Video containing numerous comments that were either abusive, insulting and/or offensive to match officials;
- attacked, disparaged and/or denigrated the game and the match officials;
- did not accept or observe the authority and decisions of match officials;
- published or caused to be published criticism of the manner in which a match official handled a match;
- engaged in conduct or activity that may impair public confidence in the integrity and good character of match official(s); and
- brought the game into disrepute when he published or caused to be published the Erasmus Video.
Having considered all the evidence, including oral evidence from the match officials, Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby, World Rugby, and submissions from the parties the committee found all six charges against Mr Erasmus proved.
Two charges were brought by World Rugby against SA Rugby in accordance with World Rugby Regulation 18 and the World Rugby Code of Conduct. In summary, the charges were that SA Rugby:
- did not ensure that Rassie Erasmus complied with the World Rugby Code of Conduct and/or permitted Mr Erasmus to commit acts of misconduct; and/or did not publicly correct any comments or publications by or on behalf of Mr Erasmus that amounted to misconduct; and
- permitted and/or did not prevent Siya Kolisi and Mzwandile Stick to make comments at a press conference on 30 July, 2021 that were not disciplined or sporting and adversely affected the game of rugby; and/or did not publicly correct any such comments so as adversely affected the game of rugby.
Having considered all the evidence, including oral evidence from the match officials, Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby, World Rugby, and submissions from the parties, the committee found the first charge against SA Rugby proved.
Having considered submissions on behalf of both parties in respect of sanction, the independent committee decided on the following:
Suspension with immediate effect from all rugby activities for two months
- Suspension from all match-day activities (including coaching, contact with match officials, and media engagement) with immediate effect until 30 September, 2022
- A warning as to his future conduct and an apology to the relevant match officials.
- A fine of £20,000
- A warning as to future conduct and an apology to the relevant match officials
The parties have seven days to appeal from receipt of the full written decision.
The full written decision is available here.
Women’s Lions feasibility study group announced
The 13-person group will be chaired by British & Irish Lion, Ieuan Evans, and is made up of experienced administrators from across professional rugby, business executives, as well as former international standard athletes from the world of sport. The group is tasked with looking into the feasibility of establishing a Women’s Lions team:
- Ieuan Evans MBE (Chair) – British & Irish Lion and The British & Irish Lions board member
- Ben Calveley – managing director, The British & Irish Lions
- Susie Logan – group chief marketing Officer, Royal London
- Joanna Manning-Cooper – group director of corporate affairs, Sky
- Max Taylor – consumer director, Vodafone
- Simon Rowe – head of global sports marketing, Canterbury
- Sue Day MBE – chief operating & financial officer, RFU and RFU Board, Rugby Football Union
- Anthony Eddy – director of Sevens and women’s rugby, Irish Rugby Football Union
- Gemma Fay – head of girls & women’s strategy, Scottish Rugby
- Hannah John – women’s high-performance lead (acting), Welsh Rugby Union
- Nicky Ponsford – women’s high-performance manager, World Rugby
- Shaunagh Brown – senior player, Harlequins Women and England
- Niamh Briggs – senior player, Munster and Ireland, club coach and Garda Síochána (Police) Officer
The primary responsibility of the newly formed group will be to initiate, oversee and contribute towards a feasibility study which will seek to ascertain whether a Women’s Lions team could be formed. The study is being funded by Lions Global Partner, Royal London, who are also the inaugural ‘Principal Partner’ of the Women’s Lions programme.
As a champion of women’s sport, Royal London, the UK’s largest insurance mutual, will provide guidance and expertise to the working group.
The study will be undertaken by a specialist consulting firm which will be appointed by the steering group.
“We are excited to have put together such a stellar list of individuals who I know will add value to this project,” said Calveley.
“I believe a Women’s Lions team is a huge opportunity, but there are a number of challenges to consider when looking to create a successful women’s set-up. Financial viability, suitable opposition and appropriate scheduling in the women’s rugby calendar will all need rigorous analysis, research and careful consideration.
“We are very grateful to be working with a purpose-driven organisation like Royal London on this initiative. Our broader commercial family – including Sky, Vodafone and Canterbury – have also committed to provide their expertise and play an active role in the feasibility analysis.”
Ieuan Evans, added: “Women’s rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth around the world with participation levels continuing to increase every year.
“A Women’s Lions team is a big opportunity for the women’s game, and I am looking forward to working with the Steering Group to assess its viability.”
Commenting on the announcement Logan said: “We are committed to levelling the playing field in sport and we’re delighted to be supporting this important study to understand if the creation of a British & Irish Lions team for women will be possible.
“We want to support a society that is inclusive and benefits everyone, and this partnership with the Lions is a great opportunity to grow women’s rugby.”
Source – British & Irish Lions