It was in the deserted departures lounge at Heathrow Airport that it all dawned on Alun Wyn Jones. Closed-up restaurants, empty baggage carousels and a last-minute ticket to South Africa. Once his flight had lifted off the runway, the dream was back on.
‘It was a bit surreal in Terminal Five,’ the Lions skipper tells Sportsmail, reflecting on his miracle three-week comeback from the dislocated shoulder he suffered against Japan in a tour warm-up game at Murrayfield.
‘Surreal is the word that keeps coming to me. There I was, back in Terminal Five about to fly to South Africa with four bags and a boarding pass. It was strange. You couldn’t really write it.’
Alun Wyn Jones has opened up on his remarkable recovery from a dislocated shoulderInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Yet it all started with such hope when he lined up at Murrayfield.
‘For a few of us, that Japan game was the first time we had played in front of crowds for 18 months.
‘You realised how much you had missed those fans when you were running out. I had all of the build-up but obviously it was very short-lived. Seven minutes. For a lot of people, to all intents and purposes, that was it.
‘Obviously, there were a few expletives. It all happened very quickly, from the impact to getting spotted from the side. You hope for the best but it obviously wasn’t ideal. Talking about it now, it feels like I am talking about someone else. It can be a strange old game at times.
‘The targets, timelines, destinations changed within seconds. Me and Justin Tipuric were in an airport flying from Edinburgh to Wales when we should have been going from Edinburgh to South Africa. Justin was on his iPad with his headphones, which shows what my company was like!
‘It happened so quickly. It felt like the click of a finger. There wasn’t much to be said. It was very surreal for the wrong reasons.’
The Welshman's participation in the Lions' tour looked to be over after he picked up the injury in June at Murrayfield
But Jones went through an intense rehab programme to recover in just three weeksInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Back home in Swansea, Jones’s wife, Anwen, and daughters, Mali and Efa, were waiting for him with open arms. Home comforts and a few big hugs to soften the pain of years of hard work seemingly down the drain. A dream shattered by an innocuous collision at a ruck.
‘I found myself back on the sofa at home on Sunday before the guys had even got to the airport,’ he recalls. ‘My eldest was a little bit shocked because we had drummed it into her that daddy was going to go away for a long time. She’s more switched on than I realised! Two weeks, one game and daddy was home… but then daddy left again.’
In between, for 17 days, Jones tapped into the deepest vaults of grit and determination. Two weeks of intense rehabilitation.
Others may have thrown in the towel and settled for a summer at home with their young family, but Jones is not the type to kick stones around the Mumbles beaches.
‘It was a long couple of days before I saw the consultant on the Tuesday,’ he adds. ‘He said there was a chance I could still feature. Selection was another thing but he said if I could get through the hoops that I needed to get through, then I could feature. I didn’t try to dwell on it and I got on with it the next day.’
The Lions arranged for a recovery chamber to be sent to Jones’s