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Alun Wyn Jones praises changing face of Welsh sport

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Alun Wyn Jones has his eye on a trip to Rome next summer - even though another call of duty against the All Blacks may yet eventually scupper his plan.

The BBC Cymru Wales Sports Personality of the Year for 2019 is an avid fan of all Welsh sport and spoke of his admiration for his fellow athletes at the Wales Sport Awards evening at the Celtic Manor.

The Wales rugby captain overcame the challenge of runner-up Sabrina Fortune and third-place Jade Jones in the public voting.  On a memorable night, Jones was also part of the squad that won the Team of the Year award.

It made for a notable double for the 34-year-old Grand Slam-winning captain, who led his team to the World Cup semi-finals - especially as the men's Wales football team ended the year by qualifying for next year's European Championship finals.

Ryan Giggs' men are off to face Italy in Rome on June 21 next year at the Stadio Olimpico - a venue and city Jones knows well from his Six Nations visits - and he fancies going as a fan.

"I followed the Euros last time and to see the boys hand the baton over to a new bunch of boys is brilliant," says Jones.

"I might try and sneak out to Rome with a few other people. I don't know whether my wife would be so forgiving, having spent so long in Japan, but I'll follow it avidly.

"The same goes for other Welsh athletes and nominees in different events next year - I like to follow them all."

As the Wales rugby team are due to be playing a Test match against New Zealand on July 4 - just 13 days after the football date in Rome - then Jones might have to pull a few strings to make his football fan plan work out successfully.

But there is plenty of other Welsh sport going on throughout 2020 to keep the British and Irish Lions star fully engaged.

Jones may be at the different end of the competitive age spectrum to someone like Lily Rice, the WCMX (wheelchair motocross) winner of the Carwyn James young sportswoman of the year award, but the emergence of new sports stars - including teenage girls who can turn somersaults in a wheelchair - is something he is right behind.

Jones' two closest rivals on the shortlist - shot put para-athlete Fortune and taekwondo star Jade Jones - are both world champions, and the other candidates included more world champions in javelin para-athlete Hollie Arnold, cyclist Elinor Barker, para-skier Menna Fitzpatrick, sailor Hannah Mills and boxer Lauren Price.

"Sport has changed and it needed to change," says Jones. "It is all about sport for enjoyment and finding out and learning about yourself. Sport can be a vehicle for a lot of those things and the creating of inspiring stories that show anything is possible.

"To see so many female athletes and competitors doing so well is fantastic and I say that as a father with two daughters. These are sports heroes for them to look up to.

"There is always a drive to get more girls into sport and the awards night gave a great platform to show what is going on in Wales at the moment.

"I have always said size can also be a strength in Welsh rugby, but I think it goes for the whole breadth of Welsh sport. There's a lot of positive success out there."

Jones is clear he has no plans to retire as yet and another Lions tour in 2021 is a firm possibility.

The intrinsic enjoyment of simply playing rugby that was there as an eight-year-old with Bonymaen mini-section is still evident, although he admits he has valuable support from his wife, family and friends.

With that team behind him, there are few who would bet against him extending his position as Wales' most capped rugby player of all time to become the most capped the world has ever seen.

Jones currently stands on 143 Test caps and some time in 2020 should pass the mark of 148 set by former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

"I still enjoy the game, although it can get difficult. You can be your own harshest critic, and the expectation in a small nation - especially off the back of success - does get ramped up, quite considerably.

"But you have to embrace that and I'll be honest - I'm not good at that all the time. But that's because I know it means so much to people and what it represents.

"But it's great to have an evening when you can show what it means to you and share it with like-minded people.

"I have probably spent more time on planes, buses, pitches and in changing rooms than I have with the family this year. So, it's nice to finally spend a bit of time at home.

"I have a great support system and ultimately, when it's all over - which is going to be a while yet - they will still be there."


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