Alun Wyn Jones said on Wednesday that to captain the British and Irish Lions in the first Test against the Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday will be “very special”.
The world’s most-capped rugby player told journalists of the disappointment he felt when he dislocated his left shoulder in a pre-tour match against Japan.
“Seven minutes and it was my tour done,” he said.
But two days later he was told there was a chance he could recover in time to join the squad in South Africa.
After that he put in the rehabilitation work to prove his fitness.
“It wasn’t just me. There was a lot of help back home. I’ve had a lot of support and there was a lot of planning that was put in.
“It was bordering on surreal. So to be here, taking the knocks and bumps and being in amongst it with the group, it means more.”
Asked whether his shoulder would stand up to what is expected to be a hugely physical battle against the world champion Springboks, he said a tough training session on Tuesday had convinced him he was ready.
The session was so demanding, he said, that “there were a few guys asking whether there was a Test cap involved”.
His pre-match message will be very basic: “When you get to this level, it doesn’t have to get over-complicated. The big one is composure. It’s going to be an arm wrestle.”
Coach Warren Gatland said it was “fantastic” to have Jones back for what will be a 10th successive Lions Test, a professional era record.
But Gatland said there was “a lot of discussion” as to whether he should be in the starting team or to come off the bench, as he did in his only tour appearance last Saturday against the Stormers.
In the end, said Gatland, the decision to start with Ali Price at scrumhalf instead of Conor Murray, who was appointed tour captain after Jones’s injury, was the deciding factor.
“We felt we really needed his leadership and experience in terms of starting.”
Gatland said the selection of the Test team had been the most difficult he had been involved in on four Lions tours.
“I asked the coaches to come with their 23s and we were all different. We all had to compromise and debate positions.”
Gatland said strength off the bench, with experienced players such as Murray, Owen Farrell and Liam Williams able to make an impact, was a big consideration.
“We wanted to get the balance right.”