The grim sight of Alun Wyn Jones trudging from the field 19 minutes into his 149th cap against New Zealand not only punctured a popping Principality Stadium but gave Wales a shuddering sight of their future.
It was a routine tackle on Jordie Barrett, one he has completed hundreds of thousands of times in his epic career, but Jones ended it with a chilling yelp.
As he hit the deck and the game continued around him the 36-year-old lock knelt down trying to coax some life out of the left shoulder he hurt badly in June playing for the Lions against Japan.
Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones was forced off against New Zealand with a shoulder issue on Saturday
It is a frightening sight of what is to come for Wayne Pivac and Wales’ golden generation
Three times he tried to bend it, but soon realised the power in it had gone.
By his side Dr Geoff Davies, Wales’ long-standing medic, gave the fateful twirling hand-signal to show his colleagues the captain’s day was done.
The charged atmosphere died in an instant when the crowd realised Jones was injured.
Fans clapped him off, as Davies held Jones’ shoulder for him in an identical image from the one when he left Murrayfield four months ago, all with a sudden sense of their great god’s rugby mortality.
After head coach Wayne Pivac was upbeat about his skipper, who was seen without an arm-sling chatting happily enough to All Blacks’ boss Ian Foster after Wales’ savage defeat.
Did Pivac fear a second dislocation?
‘Certainly that wasn’t the discussion,’ he said, smiling.
‘I don’t think our medical team will write him off after South Africa.’
No one should. He made it back to the Lions tour within a fortnight of the last, similar, injury – however as Warren Gatland revealed then some ‘shortcuts’ were made so Jones avoided surgery.
Jonathan Davies, 33, did start and took over the captaincy from Jones but he was peripheral
The Welsh regions are not producing gangs of replacements as good as those fading out
Whether or not Monday’s scan reveals severe damage or not, Pivac has a problem. What does he do with the golden generation he has inherited from Gatland – heroes all for so long, and Six Nations champions, but now all in their 30s?
Not all played against New Zealand. Ken Owens, 34, pulled out in the week with a back issue, Justin Tipuric, 32, Taulupe Faletau, 30, Dan Lydiate, 33, and Leigh Halfpenny, 32, are injured and Dan Biggar, 32, was blocked from featuring, playing for Northampton instead.
Jonathan Davies, 33, did start, taking over the captaincy from Jones – but was peripheral. He was angry with the record home loss to the All Blacks in which the Kiwis scored seven tries.
‘You work extremely hard to get a result and when you don’t get it it does hurt,’ he said.
‘The beauty is we have another opportunity next week to put the wrongs right. The one thing this team always shows is that the more time we spend together, the better we get.’
Dan Biggar (centre) was blocked from featuring on Saturday as he played for Northampton
Does Pivac ease some out now and find a fresh side built around the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit
Aside from South Africa next, then Fiji and Australia, Wales’ bigger issue is replacing an amazing group who all came through together a decade ago.
Does Pivac ease some out now, take the pain, and find a fresh side for the 2023 World Cup built around Josh Adams, Aaron Wainwright, Louis Rees-Zammit, Tomos Williams and Adam Beard?
Or does he do what Gatland did, and eke every last ounce out of them until then, then face Wales’ greatest challenge, or let someone else try?
It is an invidious position, and while Johnny Williams, Taine Basham, Wainwright and prop Wyn Jones stood up admirably the harsh truth is the Welsh regions are not producing gangs of replacements as good as those fading and, when shorn of plenty due to injuries and red-tape, Wales cannot remotely compete with the best.
Jones is not done yet, but his early exit should send a lightning bolt through the Welsh game – there will be a day he and his gilded crew are gone and it cannot be that what is left is a side who have no hope like they did on Saturday.