Alun Wyn Jones admits it would be a “travesty” if British and Irish Lions tours were to fade from the international calendar after his own illustrious career in the red jersey ended in heartache.
The Lions are having to fight increasingly hard for their place in a cluttered global programme, with their fruitless trip to South Africa squeezed from six weeks to five.
Head coach Warren Gatland has repeatedly stated his desire for prospective series to be protected when rugby’s powerbrokers discuss the future of the world schedule.
Veteran captain Jones, who conceded the agonising 2-1 defeat to the Springboks will be his fourth and last series after appearances in 2009, 2013 and 2017, echoed Gatland’s view and believes Lions contests remain among the pinnacle of the sport.
“It’s funny, being involved in 2009, I remember the furore after that – the Lions is this, the Lions is that. Should it exist? he said.
“… In its most basic concept it is something that is very special and it ignites the imagination in children and adults and it is something that rugby has hung its hat on for a long, long time…
“It is up there with all of those international competitions and rugby World Cups.
“It is very special and if rugby were to lose it, it would be a travesty.”
History repeated itself on Saturday as a late Morne Steyn penalty secured glory for South Africa, just as it did on Jones’ debut tour 12 years ago.
The Wales lock – rugby’s most-capped player – fought back tears at the end of the decisive 19-16 loss in Cape Town.
With a trip to Australia scheduled for 2025, he used a forceful outgoing speech to remind teammates of the importance of being selected.
“I’m never going to put this jersey on again, I am never going to have this chance again,” the 35-year-old, who overcame a dislocated shoulder to face the Springboks, said.
“I made a point to the guys that whoever is on the next one, make sure you go as hard as hell because it is a very special privilege to be involved in.
“I’ve already had a bit of stick for being overly emotional and I don’t give a f*** if people think I’m over-emotional, that’s what it means to me.”
Lions tours date back to 1888.