The world of rugby has lost one of its most colourful characters: Phil Kingsley Jones, a comedian, international coach and the man who discovered Jonah Lomu has died in Auckland at the age of 72.
His son, Kingsley, junior, the former Wales captain who coached Sale to their only English Premiership title, confirmed the news from his home in British Columbia where he runs the Canada national team.
“Dad died peacefully in his sleep with his wife, Verina, and daughters Vikki and Rhianon at his bedside,” Jones, junior, said. “He had been in declining health since falling at home a few months ago. “We shall forever remember him as a man who lived life to the full and for all those lucky enough to have known him, he made the world a better place.
“A comedian, coach and mentor to one of the greatest rugby players the world has ever seen, dad was first and foremost a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and brother.
“We are all so very proud of his achievements, not least his massive influence on Counties Manukua rugby over a period of more than 30 years. He will be sorely missed by his family and countless friends.’’
Six years after launching a professional career as a comedian on the strength of winning a national UK competition at the London Palladium, Jones emigrated to New Zealand and found further fame as the coach who guided Jonah Lomu on his stratospheric path from a shy teenager into a global superstar.
Jones, more than anybody else, ensured that his protégé stayed in New Zealand to become the most iconic All Black of the professional era. As his manager and confidante, Phil had advised Lomu against accepting a seven-figure offer from the Dallas Cowboys before the All Blacks unleashed him at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
The Cowboys were so interested that they flew their star running back Emmitt Smith to meet Lomu and Jones in Boston. “Emmitt gave him a crash course in the basics of American football,” Jones said years later. “Then they asked Jonah to have a go and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
“As one of them said: ‘Oh, my gawd, this guy doesn’t jump, he flies. Where did you get him because we ain’t seen anyone like this. Man, he’s going to be a superstar.'”
Phil’s advice ensured that Lomu would be a superstar allright, but not in the NFL. The World Cup having made him a global overnight sensation, Phil made sure Jonah stayed in New Zealand instead of accepting a £500,000-a-year offer to sign a dual-contract deal with the Leeds Rhinos.
Born in the old Gwent Valley coalmining community of Blaina, Jones had played the game himself, as a prop in the hard school of Welsh rugby with Blaina, Ebbw Vale and Abertillery. He gave the game New Zealand a great deal more than a wing who famously spread-eagled England with four tries in a World Cup semi-final at Newlands.
While his career as a stand-up comedian and after-dinner speaker flourished, Jones coached Counties Manukau in the National Provincial Championship, as it was then. He made such a good job of it that he wound up helping coach the Tongan national team.
Phil Kingsley Jones is survived by his wife, two daughters, son Kingsley and stepson James.
“We are all devastated by the news,” says Kingsley, junior.
“His passing will leave a huge hole in our family. Plans for the funeral will be announced as soon as possible. In the meantime we ask that everyone respects the family’s privacy at such a desperately sad time.”