HUW JONES played it cool on Sunday evening when asked about his prospects of picking up his first Scotland cap in almost two years when the Six Nations gets under way in just under four weeks’ time – but he didn’t need to say much because he had just done his talking on the park.
Playing at inside-centre for Glasgow Warriors against reigning URC champions the Stormers, the 29-year-old had shone in an all-action performance by the Scotstoun men, laying on the final pass for both of the team’s first two tries, scoring the third himself with a flurry of ankle-breaker side-steps past flailing defenders, five line-breaks, 103 metres gained with ball in hand, and generally causing panic in the opposition ranks every time he got his hands on the ball.
“It’s not something I’m thinking about at the moment,” Jones – who missed the first two and a half months of this season whilst recovering from a back injury– replied when the prospect of being involved with Scotland this spring was raised. “I’ve only had three games this season so it might be too early. Obviously, it would be great to be involved with Scotland again, but, at the moment, I’ll just try to string together a couple of games with Glasgow.”
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Sunday’s performance was reminiscent of the Jones who burst onto the Scottish rugby landscape with a phenomenal run between his debut against Japan in the summer of 2016 and the 2018 Six Nations, during which time he scored 10 tries in his first 14 Test matches, including a breath-taking double in the team’s first win over England in 11 years at Murrayfield in March 2018.
At that stage, the sky seemed to be the limit for the incisive-running centre, however a combination of injury, concerns about his defence and a lack of love from previous Warriors head coach Dave Rennie led to a dip in confidence and form, meaning that his career hit a glass ceiling in early 2019 and he ended up missing out on that year’s World Cup in Japan.
The emergence of Chris Harris as a defensive bulwark at outside-centre also contributed to Jones finding himself pushed to the international periphery, while his move to Harlequins ahead of last season definitely had an ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ effect on his profile for a lot of Scottish rugby fans.
However, that year proved to be just the ticket to get his career back on track, and he points out that he was supposed to tour Argentina with Scotland last summer before the back injury intervened.
“That [missing out on the tour] was a bit disappointing because I hadn’t been involved for a while before that,” he said. “The back is all fine now. I had two stress fractures in my lower back. It was a gradual injury that got worse towards the end of last season then it was too much to continue.
“Personally, I’ve improved as a player and my time at Quins was very valuable for me,” he added. “Across my game, it was refreshing to be with a new coaching staff, different players and different ideas. I played with some quality players down there – a lot of the England boys – so it was good to learn from them.
“And I played a load of games – 26 in the Gallagher Premiership and the Champions Cup – the most games I’ve ever played in a season. In my first stint up here, I didn’t really play the first three seasons. I’ve only just made my 50th appearance in five seasons! Whereas at Quins it was nice to just play loads, and I got better off the back of that.
“I’m a better player now than I ever have been. It’s pleasing for me. I’m happy with where I’m at but I want to keep improving and I’m sure I will, but where I am now, I’m better than I was when I was playing for Scotland back then and doing well. I now have more to offer.”
And the really good news for Glasgow fans is that he has returned north to a team which appears to be much better equipped to capitalise on Jones’ undoubted attacking gifts under the tutelage of new head coach Franco Smith.
Jones marked his first game back by scoring a try as Glasgow launched their Challenge Cup campaign with an away win against Bath back in early December, and then managed another 80-minutes and got on the scoresheet again as Warriors made it two from two in that tournament against Perpignan at Murrayfield six days later.
He was rested for the team’s back-to-back wins over Edinburgh during the festive season, before returning with a bang on Sunday.
“It’s a little frustrating when you miss out on a game, but I’d come off the back of a six-month injury, and I was a bit banged up after Perpignan, so I was ready for a rest,” said the player. “Franco is smart in the way he is rotating us. Obviously, we all want to play, so the hope is we all get enough game time. I was happy to be back in the shirt this weekend, for sure.
“The brand of rugby we’re trying to play – attacking, fast-paced – suits this whole group. We’re getting better at it, each day and each week in training we’re improving, and that’s showing in the results as well.
“The coaching is really good, everyone is buying-in and the standard at training is a lot higher now than it was when I was previously at the club.”
Warriors are now up to fifth in the URC table and a win in Perpignan on Friday night will pretty much guarantee qualification into the knock-out stages of this year’s Challenge Cup. The second-tier inter-continental competition not where the team want to be, but if they are in it then they want to win it, and these matches are a great opportunity for Franco to develop the depth of the squad as he did in that Bath match when several novice and fringe players were thrown in at the deep end then proved that they could swim.
“I don’t know whether it’s because I’m now more experienced and a little bit older and a better player, but looking at this squad and the way we play, I’m really confident about this group and where we can go,” concluded Jones.
“When I was last here, we got to a final and to a semi-final [of the old PRO14], and I think we can do something special, maybe this season, maybe next season.”
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Can Jones play on the wing? Given the injuries there, might that be a way of getting him into the Scotland team, if Harris stays at 13
You could play Lomu on the wing outside Chris Harris and it would make no difference as he would never get the ball.
Jones is by far Scotland’s best available centre and must start (preferably at 13) for us to have any chance of winning the Six Nations or progressing in the world cup. The way he carves up defences in unmatched by any centre in Europe (his try scoring rate speaks for itself) and perhaps even the world. The treatment he has had to endure from Townsend and particular Rennie has been nothing sort of a disgrace (Rennie’s egotistical REFUSAL to give Jones game time when he got back to fitness in 2019 in my opinion was catastrophic for his confidence and career progression. Being shunted to fullback by Wilson didn’t help much either). Any other country would have bent over backwards to get Jones back to full fitness and form and back in an international jersey, yet it seems Scottish coaches and management have done everything they can to ensure that that doesn’t happen, picking attacking donkeys (Harris, Lang) in midfield and thus nullifying the attacking threat of our back three.
Harris’ continued selection is only going to hold Scotland back and I guarantee we have no chance of winning the Six Nations as long as he’s there. I’m absolutely sick of this
broken down record about his defence, but what use is that if he offers
absolutely nothing in attack? Opposition defences clearly realise this and it enables them to double down on our back three, hence, you might have noticed our relative lack of tries in the last few years despite having one of the best (back threes) in Europe, if not the world. Note in the Autumn most of our tries were scored against 14 or less men.
In short, you cannot pick a player in such a crucial attacking channel simply based on their defence (which is the ONLY reason Harris is there).
On that note, if you look back, bar one meaningless game (which I’ll come to later), Jones has never made any high profile defensive errors, so the defensive argument really goes out the window. (NOTE: Jones had two defensive mistakes leading two tries, but it was in the pointless game against Wales in the Autumn a few years back, which Townsend is clearly using as a pretext not to pick him again)
On that note, where was Harris’ defence brilliance when the All Blacks carved our midfield defence to pieces in the Autumn – or in the Six Nations when we were destroyed by the French? With a player of Jones calibre, you simply have to take a calculated risk and play him. Can you imagine if Alan Tait was dropped in 1999 for a Harris-like player? That’s right, there would have been no title. Fast forward to 2021 – our best chance since ’99 to win a title. Jones was fit and in decent form, when he got on the field but Harris started every game. If Jones had started, he would have given us the edge we needed (particularly in those catastrophic games against Wales and Ireland) and we would have almost certainly won the title. Harris has continually failed over the last four years to offer anything in attack and/ or ignite our back three – and his lack of pace means he’s not use as a cover defender or in scrambling defensive situation, so why does he still get picked?
Every time Jones plays, he tears holes at will through opposition defences and creates all sorts of opportunities for himself and others. I genuinely fear Jones won’t be a regular started until (hopefully) we get a new coach at the end of the world cup, but by that time he’s going to be 30 years old and near the end of his career. Honestly, I cannot remember a greater waste of talent in the history of Scottish rugby. I can only hope that, similar to Alan Tait, Jones is able to keep in good shape until at least his mid 30’s. Nothing short of a tragedy. That’s the best way to sum it up. Thanks for reading.
I’m not sure it’s even correct to assume our defence is any better for Harris being picked….we still concede way too many soft tries. I cannot think of another era when we have had so many pact exciting dangerous creative centres available to us, yet we are continually picking one that would have barely been considered in the bad old 1-2 tries per season early noughties era. It’s painful when we can all see it. The same is true at 9 when we should be picking out slickest best serving 9 but we insist on slow ball and aimless box kicks. We won’t have talent like Finn Jones n Darcy for that long let’s use them to their full potential not hold them back.
I’m not sure I would agree that Jones is necessarily our best centre but he and Sione are definitely the form players just now and I would be starting them in the 6Ns.
There is no doubt that Harris is a great defender and, although I think he is sometimes scapegoated for some of our attacking breakdowns (for example, THAT pass against France was demanded by his captain who should have damn well caught it even if it wasn’t perfect) but the points you make about the knock-on impact on the back three are well made.
The one worry I have about our back three in the context of the modern game is DvdM’s inability/unwillingness to kick. I wonder if that is possibly making us play more conservatively than we otherwise might – it might even be part of the justification for having a ‘defensive specialist’ in the 3/4 line.
But the broader point is that surely defence has to be system led rather than led by an individual and it is true that we do concede a hell of a lot of soft tries compared to other teams despite Harris’ presence.
The problem is that Townsend does not pick on form because he thinks rugby matches are won by the cleverest coach rather than the best players.
The problem as I see it (one of?) is that GT seems slow to react to shifts in performance and form amongst the player pool…. he can’t seem to see past historic performances in the bank despite drops in form?
Need to get over that and quickly, otherwise those in form just just wonder what they have to do to get picked and become disengaged and it stifles competition for places.
I appreciate that club squad management is different but just look at how Franco has got the whole Glasgow squad engaged and fighting for places and the benefits that is reaping!
Plus, I’m sure our opponents must love playing the same old Scotland…
you seem to forget that Townsend had his Glasgow squad fighting for places. Toonie also brought Jones to Glasgow. Rennie mismanaged Jones and the latter’s form went off a cliff
But he is back and I sincerely hope Townsend moves past Harris so we can attack with 15 players rather than 14
He could score hat tricks against Perpignan and Bath in the next fortnight but we all know Townsend will still pick Harris.Even then he may struggle to get into the 23 as Redpath offers a better inside centre option assuming Kinghorn is the other back sub.
Ridiculous but there it is.I’d have him just about first name on the team sheet-rather like his comination with Tuipolotu where clearly they don’t stick rigidly to the 12/13 shirts and interchange on different plays.Can’t do that with Harris as he’s not an inside centre option ( still having nightmares about the Jones/Harris combo in Cardiff 2018!).
I think Jones has always been class, he became 1st choice for Quinn’s at center and at 15. We have a great collection of center’s and wings at the moment. However I agree with others Harris seems to be Townsend’s favorite’s for his defensive work, that leaves a collection including Johnson, Redpath , Jones, Tuipulotu , Hutchinson, Bennett for the 12 berth. If Darcy is not fit I wish he would bring back Maitland, he has been playing well for Saracens , who are running away with the premiership at the moment and are a team who know how to win, that rubs off on a player.
I don’t think Huw Jones was ever first choice for Quins at centre except when injury intervened. Esterhuizen and Marchant were picked at 12 and 13 when both were fit.
That’s not to knock Jones who had a great season at Quins, both those centres were starters in the title winning side so it’s not surprising that they remain the first choices.
Yeah he played very little for Quins until Tyrone Green got injured, which gave Jones the opportunity to prove his worth at fullback.
Quite simply Huw Jones (in Sundays form) has been sprinkled with magic dust. We cannot not pick such players.
I’m not having Harris being some sort of defensive master and that trumping magic dust.
GT has only himself to blame re perceived negativity towards him
He certainly has all the talent and at outside centre is a serious danger to any opposition. But there is the ever-present Harris factor and Townsend regularly talks up his defensive abilities, especially against ‘power’ opponents like England. Which is fine, but if your only ambition is to be defensive then it it not ambition at all. I have seen Harris do very little of late for Gloucester that might merit his inclusion and he is a one-trick pony. By contrast, Jones was an absolute revelation at full back for Quins – including his qualities as last line of defence – and there is surely room in the 23 for such a versatile player. Tupo is likewise pressing his case more and more convincingly. Food for thought, because at least one of the three will be disappointed. Place your bets now ladies and gents.
he was excellent at full back for Glasgow season before he moved on. Glasgow had never replaced Hogg and some of us were crying out for Jones to play 15, he has all the attributes
I dont honestly think Harris is that good at the one trick tbh….most decent backs can simply outpace him because he is painfully slow and we have continued to concede way too many soft tries whilst indulging this prolonged experiment. He is a good tackler if someone runs right at him but presented with a modicum of creativity or pace and he’s sadly lacking. All of which makes the damage done to our attack by picking him even more painful to watch.
Why he wasn’t better looked after in the past, has always baffled me, but great now to see him back, and showing his natural talent he clearly has.
need to ask Rennie that question. Jones form at Glasgow was poor TBF, until Wilson played him at full back. He was effectively 3rd choice for a while at 13 behind Grigg and Steyn under Rennie
His ceiling is so much higher though, and in a good environment he is yet again flourishing
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