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Australia 16-41 British & Irish Lions, Sydney
The unsung hero
Tom Hamilton in Sydney
July 6, 2013
The two skippers enjoy the moment © PA Photos

Alun-Wyn Jones hails fighting spirit

He sat there utterly exhausted. Alun-Wyn Jones' shirt showed the toll of victory both on and off the field. It was a Lions top covered in sweat and champagne, the graft and the reward.

While the press asked Warren Gatland for his thoughts on the match, Jones looked into the middle distance, potentially frustrated at having to be in a press conference and not being able to join his team-mates in toasting a once-in-16 years occurrence or maybe attempting to come to terms with what he had just been a part of.

In 2009, Jones was dropped for the second Test with the Lions coming in for huge criticism for their limp power in the scrum in Durban. Today, he was an integral member of a dominant forward-moving heave. Questions were asked of the team selection, feedback Warren Gatland labelled "vitriolic", and Jones' leadership came in for question. He hoped he was selected on the basis of "the way I play and not necessarily the way I lead". Tonight he mastered both aspects of his role. He was everywhere playing the game to its limits and putting his body on the line.

At various moments during the press conference he touched the back of his head and held his hand up clearly expecting blood to be on there. From where we were, it was hard to tell whether he had extolled blood as well as sweat for the cause.

Having experienced the low points of 2009, you can forgive Jones for enjoying the next few days to their fullest. En route into the room full of media he took one final swing of champagne before putting it on the left side of the stage.

For the first few questions he sat there motionless with a face void of expression. Gatland gave his thoughts on the match and then it was Jones' turn. What he felt he could not put into words.

"We kicked on when the boys came off the bench. I was digging in the last 20 minutes, I'm not afraid to say that. When you have boys from the bench picking you up it's a funny feeling. I'll probably be able to tell you how it feels in a day or two, but at the minute I'm outside the moment."

An existential experience. After the post-match pleasantries had been fulfilled, Jones and Sam Warburton walked up to collect the Tom Richards Cup. The stadium was without the previous swathes of yellow. It was just red to witness the trophy presentation, a notional event but an image which will be one reproduced on timeless occasions over the next four years in the lead up to 2017.

Alun-Wyn Jones takes a lie-down following the Lions victory, Australia v British & Irish Lions, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, July 6, 2013
© Getty Images

Jones looked awkward being up there but he clasped one side of the Cup with Warburton holding the other and pointed to the rest of his team-mates, maybe even Brian O'Driscoll. The players then saluted the supporters. They have been omnipresent over the last six weeks, living in the Lions' pockets even though there were occasions when the players clearly wanted to be left alone. But that's what happens on Lions tours. For six weeks the 37 or so men in the squad were placed on the pedestal of touring immortality.

"The atmosphere was pretty good. We were outnumbered but you wouldn't have known it by the noise those in red made. These fans are die-hard. We know they spend a lot of money to come out here. They can be a bit on top of us at times but they mean well. They were the 16th man tonight. And it means a hell of a lot to a lot of boys in that squad."

He will now return to normality in Swansea. Whether what he has achieved has sunken in by then is something only he will know. While Leigh Halfpenny is likely to get the official gongs for what was an incredible six weeks, Jones is also worthy of mention. But don't expect him to milk it.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum