Back on the family farm outside Llandovery, they have 400 acres of land, 100 cattle, 700 ewes and fantastic valley views, even on a gray day. That’s Wyn Jones’ other life away from rugby – and he’s thankful for both.
“I’m lucky enough to be in two different worlds,” said the Wales prop, who has emerged as a frontrunner for inclusion in the Lions’ Test XV against South Africa on Saturday. “I play the game I love, but also come home and become a farmer, which I grew up with and which is embroidered in me.”
For now, rugby is understandably the focus for the 29-year-old Scarlets loosehead. He has become a fixture in the Welsh pack and was a leading figure in their Six Nations title triumph, which in turn propelled him into the Lions squad as a form contender for the No. 1 shirt.
Wyn Jones spends his time away from rugby on his family’s farm outside Llandovery
The Welshman could start for the Lions in the first Test against South Africa on Saturday
But he fitted in on the farm whenever possible for this tour and he will do so again when he returns – and when his oval ball career ends.
Jones sees parallels between his two lives. They require similar traits, which could explain why so many players – especially in the front row – come from the kind of background he comes from.
“Agriculture involves a bit of discipline, which is also necessary in rugby,” he said. “There are rams in the field that need to be fed every night, so they are fed every night. You can’t just think, “I can’t worry about that today.” You just have to keep going – kind of like doing conditioning work in rugby. It may not be fun, but you just keep your head down and get on with it.
“At one point with the Scarlets, we were alone in the front row with five or six of us from farming backgrounds. I assume you do crafts at a young age without really thinking about it. You go around chasing and catching a lamb when you’re still quite young and as the lamb grows you keep catching them and you get stronger naturally.
“Sometimes, especially in scrummaging, it’s all about digging into yourself and not letting yourself be beaten. Farming also involves digging – it’s not the easiest job. I assume you build up mental resilience over time, without really thinking about it.’
The man they call “sausage” is content in his picturesque West Wales habitat, despite admitting that playing a stint in Japan could one day be appealing. He and his fiancé are getting married in September, after having to postpone their wedding last summer on COVID grounds.
Jones’ two worlds tend to collide, forcing his wife-to-be to cover his absence.
“Me and my friend Jen have a small herd of Suffolk ewes of our own,” he said. “I had to send Jen to Monmouth’s market to buy me two sheep that I had signed up for, but we had Ireland gone. We played them on Friday night and flew back on Saturday, so I sent her there. I think she was quite nervous, but she’s feeling more confident now, which is good.”
Jones and his family have 400 hectares of land, 100 cattle, 700 ewes and a fantastic view of the valley
Rugby and agriculture had to coexist when Jones studied Agriculture and Animal Science at university, while he settled with the Scarlets. He insisted on completing his degree, which meant tough rides on winding country roads four times a week; from Llandovery to Aberystwyth to Llanelli and back home; about 150 miles a day without the delay of cruising along a highway.
Playing semi-pro for Llandovery made him stronger. “When I first played with the Scarlets, I remember playing against Deacon Manu (former Fiji prop and captain), who was also with the Scarlets,” he said. “He was an old boss but he was relegated to play for Llanelli against Llandovery.
“I went up against him and when a scrum went down he hit me right on the nose. I thought, “What am I supposed to do here?”. I cut it back and split it open, so I just thought, “Training on Monday is going to be a nightmare,” because I was just a young guy.
“But to be honest, he came up to me and said ‘I totally deserved it, I gave you one first and you gave me one back, even better”. I earned his respect for that. He really helped me on my way after that.’
Five years ago, Jones was running for Llandovery, but by the summer of 2017 he had earned a call-up for Wales. When he first appeared in New Zealand, while the Lions were on tour there, he really opened his eyes to the epic drama of the legendary British and Irish Crusades.
The 29-year-old is looking for revenge when the Lions take on South Africa on Saturday
“My debut was against Tonga in Eden Park, which is not a bad way to start,” he said. “Everywhere we went you saw Lions banners, Lions buses and people wearing Lions uniforms. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a big deal”.
“You could feel the buzz when the Lions were playing. I remember watching a game in Auckland and the atmosphere in the local pub next door to the hotel was slightly different so can’t imagine what it would be like in the stadium proper. It all felt like such a big event and as a player you really wanted to be there.”
Now Jones is part of it. He was in his car to watch the Lions squad announcement in May, having run off at the end of a Scarlets training session, still in his kit. He wanted to absorb the news on his own, for better or for worse.
When it was announced that he had been chosen, he received a stack of cards from the proud people of Llandovery and his parents were presented with a bottle of champagne by Barry Williams, the local whore who was a lion during the triumphant 1997 tour.
There’s no doubting what’s in store for Warren Gatland’s squad in the coming weeks. All players from Wales, as well as the English, know it from bitter experience at the World Cup. “They have an incredible front five and they are a great team of 1-15,” said Jones. “They will try to dominate the set and bring in a fresh front five, so it’s going to be a great challenge.
The prop made its Wales debut in 2017 and is one of 10 Welshmen on the Lions touring squad
“For us Welsh boys, the feeling is that we want to take revenge for that semi-final defeat. When I got out, I thought we would win. We were pretty close to them and I thought the guys would do it, but it wasn’t to be. We want to get one over them this time.”
A poignant picture of that close encounter in Yokohama was Jones heroically holding out to win a breakdown while half the Springbok pack smashed him into a runaway train. He still vividly remembers the moment.
“I remember looking up and it was Etzebeth and Kitschoff coming up to me,” Jones said. “When I went over the ball, I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘Don’t look up no matter what you do’! I won the penalty on our 10-meter line, but I’m sure I’ve been ten centimeters shorter since then!’
He kept putting his head in danger, causing more trouble for opponents than for himself. At this year’s Six Nations, three teams beaten by Wales were startled by a red card and two of them came as a result of Jones taking damage in rucks.
He was the victim of an illegal eviction by Scotland prop and current Lions team-mate Zander Fagerson, while France lock Paul Willemse was sent off for making contact with Jones’ eye.
Jones continued to put his head in danger after doing so during the Six Nations
There were claims — led by Fagerson’s irate brother, Matt — that he had been theatrical in his response to the foul play.
He emphatically denies the accusation, saying: ‘I was involved in two (red cards) and that’s probably because I stuck my head in the ruck. I may be in the way more than some of the other guys. I feel sorry for other guys getting carded and that’s hard, but it’s part of the game now; if you make contact with the head you are gone.
“I don’t think any of them went out with the intention of hurting anyone. I don’t think there was any malice – it’s not like a stamp on the head – but it’s all part of the game now. It’s all black and white. It’s just a shame it was me twice. I have a stick.’ So was it acting? ‘Absolutely not.’
The Lions will need Jones to keep fighting the collapse as they confront the mighty Boks – and keep taking every penalty without complaint. Before returning to his farm life, his rugby life is about to reach a roaring climax.