Matt Dawson column: Lions can be galvanised by loss of captain Alun Wyn Jones


Matt Dawson

I cannot quite understand how gutted Alun Wyn Jones must be not to be going on the Lions tour, but unfortunately there is no time for the players to dwell on it.

The day after he dislocated his shoulder in the warm-up game against Japan, the rest of the squad was on the plane to South Africa.

Now, there is so much training to get through and there are strict Covid-19 protocols to contend with.

The days are so busy and they are going to be working on three or four-day turnarounds.

It is also not like Alun Wyn and Justin Tipuric, who was also injured against Japan, are going to be the only players to leave the tour because of injury. Unfortunately that is going to happen.

I would not think for a minute that the squad are thinking losing Jones is the end of the world and their tour is finished.

It is probably going to galvanise them and make them all realise it’s a 40-man squad that is going to win them the series against the world champions.

‘The Lions have lost one of their pillars’

Alun Wyn Jones and the Lions squad with their trophy. Jones is wearing a tracksuit top and has his left hand in his pocket.
Alun Wyn Jones (centre front) returned to the pitch to collect the trophy after the Lions beat Japan

There will be a part of Alun Wyn that will be desperately disappointed. For the captain, there is an iconic status ready to be grasped.

I think he has shown his class in the way that he still participated as much as he could after the Japan game, going on the pitch and collecting the trophy.

It was not about him, it was still about winning the tour. He has left an impression on that tour group that they will take on in South Africa.

It is a big loss because Alun Wyn has been on three tours and set an incredible standard.

I can only align it to someone like Martin Johnson, who captained the Lions on the 1997 tour of South Africa and 2001 tour of Australia.

If he got injured and was not playing, you would know you are a weaker squad. It does not mean you are a weaker Test team, but as a squad you are losing one of your pillars.

It is not so much about on the pitch because the Lions have second rows who are equally as competent in that position.

It is all the off-field experience he brings that is going to be a loss. Martin had been on a Lions tour before in 1993. I do not think he was necessarily the totem that Alun Wyn Jones is.

But he was always going to be in the team. He was a man mountain and was never going to take a backwards step.

Alun Wyn was also very good at joining different nations together. Someone like that is difficult to replace.

‘Murray is extremely well respected’

Conor Murray sits alongside a plane captain in the cockpit
Conor Murray, pictured before the Lions’ flight to South Africa, was named captain on Saturday night

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray was quickly chosen to take over the captaincy. He would have been on my list of possible choices, but so would Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Stuart Hogg or Ken Owens.

You have to take into consideration who is likely to be playing in the Tests. If Murray is physically fit, he is the form scrum-half over Gareth Davies or Ali Price.

I do not think Farrell is anywhere near guaranteeing himself a Test spot. Maro is going to be right in the mix, but I do not think it has stood him in good stead playing in the Championship with Saracens.

I have understood, though, that he is extremely well respected within the team and he is on social committees.

Murray is not your archetypal cheeky-chappie scrum-half. He is more a politician, managerial-type of scrum-half.

I think his position is close enough to the action so that the referee has total respect for what he is talking about and Conor is world class.

‘Covid protocols will be mentally tough’

Iain Henderson's kit is sprayed with santiser
The British and Irish Lions’ kit was sanitised upon arrival in South Africa

As well as the loss of their skipper, the Lions will have to cope with playing and training in a strict coronavirus bubble.

South Africa is battling a third wave and the Springboks recently announced three positive tests in their camp.

From the Lions’ perspective, that is going to sharpen their focus around Covid protocols which I know are already razor sharp.

It is going to be mentally very tough for those players. They are going to have to be disciplined.

There is the smallest possibility that if you get a few cases and it increases, then where does the tour stand?

That is going to be in the players’ minds as well as everything else they have to focus on.

The tricky thing about the Lions is that what they do off the field is so integral in bringing them all together.

In Jersey they were able to go paddle boarding and play golf. Without things like that, you are not necessarily getting that ultimate bond.

I am not in the camp and I do not know, but I can only imagine it being quite difficult and frustrating.

Winning would help. If you are winning your games, there is no cause to be too upset.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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