This is Rugby. This is Wales.

I’m proud of my journey from young player to national captain

I have a deep relationship with rugby and an innate awareness of who I represent and where I’m from – whether that’s the Gower Peninsula, the Swansea Valley or my country. I feel that sense of pride every time I represent Wales.

The Welsh jersey is iconic

It’s what links the heroes of yesteryear to the great players we have today. Wearing those three feathers connects us to a tradition of playing with flair and courage. As players, we are custodians of the jersey and what it represents. It’s about expectation and responsibility – and most importantly, trying to set a good example for the next generation.

Ross Moriarty, Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones singing the anthem
Ross Moriarty, Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones sing the national anthem at the Principality Stadium

The opportunity to keep playing for Wales is something I never take for granted

There is a real sense of achievement doing what I do. As a player, you wear your heart on your sleeve – and it’s all the sweeter when you win because you realise what it means to your team-mates around you and the three million people who are behind you.

The land of song travels with you, and that’s very special

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world: the support given by Welsh fans is incredible. Wherever you go – whether it’s playing rugby, on holiday or just walking down the street – there’s an acknowledgement that you represent your country. And your peers will probably tell you more about yourself than the opposition ever will.

Wales rugby fans in the street before a match wearing daffodil headbands
Wales v England, Guinness Six Nations - Group of fans ahead of the game posing for a selfie photograph
Wales fans ahead of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations match between Wales and England

As Welsh captain, I’ve reached the top of the game, but I still love doing what I do

In all honesty, I feel the same as when I came through the ranks all those years ago. I work in an industry which is very transparent. Everyone on the outside has an opinion and will tell you in no uncertain terms whether you’ve done well or have room for improvement. It’s instant feedback – but I’m still my own harshest critic!

I drive past my former rugby clubs at Mumbles, Bonymaen and Swansea on a daily basis – and never forget they’re the places that made me who I am today

I try not to be too romantic about it, but my sense of belonging really means something to me, and I’m reminded of it daily. There are times when I’m leaving home at 6am and the sun is rising over Swansea Bay, or I’m coming home after a long day’s training with the sun setting, and I think to myself, I could be in the South of France, or anywhere in the world – but I’m happy here.

Three Gilbert rugby balls on grass
Aaron Wainwright of Wales wins a rugby line out during Wales v England
Rugby balls on the grass during a train session, and Aaron Wainwright winning a line out against England at the Principality Stadium

Go to any town, village or community in Wales and you’ll find a rugby pitch

Some may think it’s a stereotypical picture of Wales, but the game really does bind communities. It’s not just a cliché. I know there’s an ingress of football and other sports, and that’s a positive thing. But even in the smallest villages in the back of beyond, you’ll find a field and some rugby posts. That’s pretty much unique to Wales.

The Welsh Rugby Union deserves tremendous credit for preparing the ground for us in Japan

They put their boots on the ground out there and made strong bonds – and it would be remiss of me not to mention [Wales head coach] Warren Gatland’s input. As a New Zealander he understands the importance of Māori heritage, and how respecting the traditions of our host country is imperative. Likewise, we want to share our identity with our hosts – whether it’s the squad singing Welsh songs or just expressing our affiliation with our language and culture. And we’ve watched with amazement all the efforts made to make us feel at home on social media. The excitement shown towards Wales out in Japan is astonishing.

Alun Wyn Jones on the pitch at the end of Wales v South Africa in 2018
A Welsh flag with the Principality Stadium in the background
Warren Gatland during a training session with Wales players in the background
Alun Wyn Jones after Wales' 2018 win over South Africa, the Welsh flag, and Warren Gatland during a training session

The choice of Japan as host nation for the World Cup could transform the global game

This is my fourth World Cup, and my first three – France, New Zealand and England – were all in established rugby nations that have been major forces at the tournament. I know Japan has hosted other major sporting events like the football World Cup and the Olympics but for rugby it could be a game-changer. What some people don’t realise is the long history of rugby in Japan. The sport very much aligns itself with their national values: in fact, it’s a traditional society with a lot of parallels to Wales.

The backs of the Wales players with the Principality Stadium in the background
The Wales players line up for the anthem in the Principality Stadium ahead of Wales v England in August 2019

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