British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones defended his right to be “overly emotional” after his spectacular injury return ended in a narrow series loss to South Africa.
Jones suffered what seemed like a tour-ending shoulder dislocation on 26 June.
The 35-year-old made it back three weeks later and has now played in 12 Lions Tests across four tours.
Jones seemed close to tears when asked about his Lions journey and said he “probably can’t put it into words”.
The Wales great, who started all three Tests, swore as he defended his display of emotion, saying: “I’ve already had a bit of stick for being overly emotional and you know, I don’t [care] if people think I’m overly emotional, that’s what it means to me.
“I apologise for using language but you know sometimes it’s easier.”
A ‘special’ tour given pandemic
After winning the first Test 22-17, the Lions suffered a heavy 27-9 defeat in the second to take it to a decider in Cape Town.
The tourists led 10-6 at the break but sent several kickable penalties to the corner, seeking a try, and ill discipline in the closing stages allowed veteran fly-half Morne Steyn to kick South Africa to a 19-16 victory.
Jones said coming so close “probably hurts more” than a more substantial loss but added his gratitude that the tour could even be played at all after the coronavirus pandemic threw it into doubt.
“This is a Lions tour. It’s very special and particularly after the last 18 months to two years and the jeopardy it’s faced with the global situation,” he added.
“Even to be out here has meant more to a lot of people because we’ve had the privilege.
“We fully understand the significance of this tour, particularly because it is 12 years to be back in South Africa and four years until the next one.”
Lions ‘ignites the imagination’
After the defeat, Lions head coach Warren Gatland spoke of the need for tour organisers to work with clubs and unions to allow players to have more preparation time together.
Twenty-six of the 37-man Lions squad attended a training camp in Jersey before their warm-up game against Japan, which took place on the same day as the Premiership final.
Jones also emphasised the importance of the tour for rugby, saying “it would be a travesty” if it were lost.
“It ignites the imagination in children and adults,” he added.
“I think it is something rugby has hung its hat on for a long time. It’s up there with all the international competitions and the Rugby World Cup.
“When we came together on the pitch [after the third Test] I said whoever is on the next one make sure you go hard as hell because it’s a privilege to be involved in.”
Win ‘was for our country’ – Kolisi
For South African counterpart Siya Kolisi, it is another historic victory to add to the 2019 World Cup win.
Kolisi and head coach Jacques Nienaber were among a number of Springboks who tested positive for coronavirus two weeks before the first Test, with the entire squad having to isolate in their hotel rooms at one point.
South Africa only managed one warm-up Test against Georgia before facing the Lions and had not played since winning the World Cup final in 2019 because of disruption caused by the pandemic.
“Both teams had challenges with Covid but for us our first full training was the first Test, some of us came from isolating with Covid,” Kolisi said.
“But the one thing we all agreed as a team [was] that will never be an excuse because that’s not what South Africans are made of.”
Kolisi dedicated the win to his country, which has recently suffered a third wave of coronavirus as well as riots following the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.
“When you speak to the person you are playing for and think about broader things, like what our country is going through, what it’s going to do for the people, that’s what drives you,” he continued.
“It was not only for us, our families and the team, but for the country as well.”