Warren Gatland has confirmed Alun Wyn Jones will captain his squad for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
Players from across the four home nations will have been on tenterhooks as Gatland made his announcement on Thursday afternoon and revealed that he would be selecting a 37-man party, rather than the expected 36.
Veteran Wales and Ospreys lock, 35, who turns 36 in September, will be the oldest skipper of a Lions tour since the sport turned professional back in 1995.
The Lions face Japan in their opening warm-up game at Murrayfield on June 26 and then set off for South Africa for the tour which begins on July 3.
The first of the Lions’ three-match Test series against the Springboks is scheduled to take place at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on July 24.
Rassie Erasmus’ world champions have been unable to play a single match since thumping England to clinch the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019, with their pre-Lions schedule in tatters thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Warren Gatland’s 37-man touring party
Backs: Josh Adams (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Chris Harris (Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit, Finn Russell (Scotland), Duhan Van der Merwe (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales)
Forwards: Tadhh Beirne, Jack Conan (Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England, Tom Curry (eNGLA, Zander Fagerson, Toby Faletau, Tadhg Furlong (Ireland, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Jonny Hill (England), Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Wyn Jones (Wales), Courtney Lawes (England), Ken Owens (Wales), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland)
‘I feel very proud and privileged,’ Wyn Jones said when asked for his reaction to being named captain.
‘It’s obviously a huge privilege to be selected in the squad and initially that’s what you want to be hearing as a player.
‘To have the armband as well is a privilege, especially when considering the players that have gone before.’
‘I’ve got a huge amount of pride to add this to the CV but there’s lots of work and games ahead.’
Asked who he told first about the news, he added: ‘The nearest and dearest, I kept it pretty tight with respects to Gats for obvious reasons but these things get out somehow.
‘It’s obviously the hot topic and has been for a long time but it’s nice to be out now.’
British and Irish Lions’ fixtures for the tour
June 26: Japan (Murrayfield, Edinburgh)
July 3: DHL Stormers (Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)
July 7: South Africa ‘Invitational’ (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
July 10: Cell C Sharks (Johsson Kings Park, Durban)
July 14: South Africa ‘A’ (Mbombela Stadium, Mbombela)
July 17: Vodacom Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
July 24: Springboks (FNB Stadium, Johannesburg)
July 31: Springboks (Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)
August 7: Springboks (Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg)
It remains to be seen whether or not spectators will be allowed into stadiums for the tour, with strict quarantine rules in place and flights between the United Kingdom and South Africa currently suspended.
The Springboks came out on top with a thrilling 2-1 series win in the Lions’ last tour of South Africa in 2009.
Gatland took over the reins from Ian McGeechan in 2013 and led the tourists to a 2-1 victory over Australia.
The Lions’ most recent tour of New Zealand four years ago – also led by Gatland – ended in a tie after a nail-biting 15-15 draw in the third and final Test.