Matt Dawson believes the British and Irish Lions will be in the "presence of greatness" when Alun Wyn Jones leads them in the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.
The former England scrum-half even went as far as to compare the current Lions captain with one of his most celebrated predecessors by suggesting Jones was a "modern-day" Willie John McBride.
It appeared Jones had been ruled out of the tour even before the squad arrived in South Africa after dislocating his shoulder minutes into the Lions' warm-up win over Japan at Murrayfield last month.
But having only arrived in the country last week, the 35-year-old lock -- already rugby union's most-capped player with 157 international appearances -- is set to skipper the Lions in the first of three Tests against the world champion Springboks.
The Lions are looking for a first series triumph in South Africa since Dawson starred in a 1997 success. The former scrum half has no doubt about what Jones's remarkably quick recovery will mean for the tourists' morale.
- 'Talisman' -
"Alun Wyn Jones' return is brilliant news for the Lions," Dawson told William Hill.
"He came on at the weekend against DHL Stormers and didn't look like he was taking any backward steps.
"But for the Lions to have that experience back, the communication with the referee, a talisman within the team... All of the Lions team are going to look around at him and think 'you have been there and done it, you've been everywhere'."
Ireland great McBride is one of the most revered figures in Lions history. He made five tours as a player and was captain on an unbeaten 1974 tour of South Africa.
Dawson was well aware of what it meant to compare Jones to the Welshman's fellow second row.
"It's his (Jones') 10th Lions Test on the spin, it's like playing with the modern-day Willie John McBride –- it's that enormous for the Lions," insisted Dawson, 48.
"Every player knows that they're in the presence of greatness with Alun Wyn Jones," the 2003 World Cup-winner added.
While Dawson believes the series result will be "2-1 either way", he said the attitude of the current South Africa side was much changed from the Springbok squad the Lions beat by that scoreline 24 years ago when, as now, South Africa were world champions.
"Having seen what South Africa were like in 1997, they are absolutely now not in that same mind space of 'we're world champions and you're coming into our back yard, you haven't got a chance'," he said.
"They're a million miles away from that. They know they're up against it and know where they need to be to not fail.
"And it will be deemed as a national failure if South Africa don't win this Test series and that counts for a lot for those players."