One of the best, most direct and honest, Rugby autobiographies written in recent years was Bomb by Adam Jones which modestly chronicled a career of conspicuous success but was tinged with a distinct sense of melancholy and bewilderment at the end.
When Bomb was published 15 months ago, soon after his move to Harlequins, the Hair Bear was badly in need of a reassuring man hug or a cwtch to use the Welsh phrase. The game he loved had temporarily and inexcusably turned its back on him.
More men have walked on the moon than been a member of three separate Grand Slam-winning Welsh teams but that didn’t prevent it all ending pretty horribly for Jones in Wales after he returned in triumph from the 2013 Lions tour to Australia.
There was the bizarre and inexplicable falling out with his beloved Ospreys when he somehow became involved in a stand-off between the region and the WRU and ended up signing for Cardiff Blues and then came a brutal axing from the Wales squad.
The latter was executed via a curt two minute phone call from assistant Wales coach Robin McBryde – Warren Gatland was clearly otherwise engaged that day – which left Jones sobbing in in his car for ten minutes before training with the Cardiff Blues.
A stop-start season with the Blues wasn’t a notable success either although Jones will be forever grateful to Mark Hammett for at least bringing him in from the cold.
Generally, though, there was a distinct lack of TLC for Jones the other side of the Severn Bridge. Strangely – or perhaps not – it was left to that most English of all clubs, Harlequins, to fully rehabilitate one of the great warriors of Welsh rugby who enjoyed nothing better in his career than beating England and indeed dishing it out for Ospreys against Quins in European games.
Jones calls a spade a spade but that’s a pretty useful attribute at the coal face of elite rugby. In absolutely no time at all he has become a cult figure at the Stoop, his mere appearance on the touchline to gently warm up as a replacement before the Sale match the other week being greeted with a mighty roar, exceeded only when he ran on as a replacement after 20 minutes and proceeded to have a stormer.
His wholehearted efforts in whatever capacity Quins require him have instantly seen Jones become an important figure in the Quins family. As a soothing balm for a battered Welshman it could scarcely be bettered.
“The welcome was fantastic from the off and myself and Nicole and our daughter Isla are loving it. What’s that expression? I seem to be enjoying an Indian summer at the end of my career. The sunshine has returned. I am even enjoying playing loose-head. Perhaps I should have tried it seriously a bit earlier in my career. On top of all that before Christmas came the offer to extend my contract with a bit more emphasis on coaching next season.
“Not many players get that opportunity to try their hand at coaching straight away so I am lucky and very grateful. John Kingston has been coaching forward packs since about the 1930s and Graham Rowntree is one of the best around. I’m in good hands in that respect although I’ve got a lot of playing to do yet as well.
“What I’ve found here is a proper rugby club, a very passionate rugby community. The banter is very good although perhaps not quite so harsh as back home. I do think twice sometimes before ripping in. You look at Quins’ history and although they are a top English club and for some people might have a certain reputation they have always welcomed players from all over the world into their ranks, a few of us Welsh as well. Gareth Llewellyn was up here, Huw Harries, Daffyd James, Ceri Jones.
“Stepping out of the international game, finally accepting that my Test career had come to an end has been a part of it as well. It’s a massive honour – at the time and forever – but it’s only when you stop you realise how draining it is. I was on that cycle of autumn internationals, Six Nations, summer tours and World Cup for eleven years and it was hard. Nicole says I started to look better and healthier within weeks of retiring.
“The fans have been great here and which player doesn’t enjoy a bit of smoke being blown up their arse? The club were amazing when my mother passed away just at the start of the season. They were very supportive and just told me to come back playing when I was ready. When I’m stressed I can put on weight really easily and I came back a couple of times to the club just to train just to keep that under control but I wasn’t ready to play. There are some who might have found that difficult to understand but Quins backed me totally. They were exceptional and I won’t forget their kindness.”
As well as their outward looking trait Quins have also always demonstrated a soft spot for maverick front rowers which possibly helps explains Jones’ instant cult hero status.
Legendary former club captain and prop Curly Hammond set the bar very high at the turn of the 20th century. He once accepted a bet from German dignitaries on tour and downed ten foaming pots of beer one after the other.
This is also the club of the voluble hard-drinking Claxton brothers, Jason Leonard, Keith Wood, John Olver, Brian Moore, Ian ‘the Bear’ Milne and the loquacious ‘Captain America’ Tom Billups with his Popeye muscles. Jones’ presence among the line-up seems entirely natural. He starts on the bench at Stade Francais this afternoon but in a season of chronic injuries in the front row don’t be surprised if he spends most of the afternoon on the pitch.
Twice already this season he has answered the call in spectacular fashion, first when he played for all but the opening five minutes in a notable early season win over Northampton and then earlier this month when he produced another important performance as a replacement against Sale.
On that afternoon he intended simply to watch the game from the stands and attend a surprise 30th birthday party for club captain Danny Care afterwards, but at about 11.30am came a call from John Kingston that Rowntree had been unavoidably detained and could he travel up early to act as the forwards coach for the day?
“The yarn grew a bit with the telling and some reports said I sped up the M4 from Wales but I was actually in Guildford so it was no problem to travel up a bit earlier,” says Jones.
“Once I got there Joe Marler seemed to be limping a bit and he pulled up with what turned out to be a broken bone in his foot during the warm-up. Suddenly it seemed like I would be needed on the bench. Then Owen Evans was off injured after five minutes followed by Will Collier with a broken leg, all in the first 20 minutes. I was on.
“No problems, I’ve been playing rugby all my life. Nothing changes much, I know what to do on a rugby pitch, it’s my job. We could do without all these injuries at prop though, I’ve never known anything like it. We will be losing Kyle Sinkler to the Six Nations and Joe Marler if he recovers in time and there is still a hell of a lot of rugby left in the season. Those of us left standing are going to be busy.”
Mention of the Six Nations automatically sets Jones’ mind racing with a few random thoughts. He has, after all, appeared in 44 Six Nations matches dating back to 2003 and has known the bad – being replaced on the half hour when Steve Hansen was in charge – and the good of four Championship titles and three Grand Slams.
“The Six Nations is different in a Lions year and I’m thinking particularly in the year they travel to New Zealand. Don’t believe any players who say they haven’t thought about it and that they are thinking only of the Championship and representing their country. That’s not really possible. It’s there in the back of your mind constantly and people are reminding you.
“And the matches really count in the Lions selection process. Up until the final weekend in 2013, when England came down to Cardiff looking to complete a Grand Slam, don’t tell me that England weren’t going to have the most players in the squad. But they were a young, inexperienced team and they unravelled that day and a number of Welshmen played very well and booked their places. It can all change very quickly.
“It’s going to be a good Six Nations. Let’s not beat about the bush England and Ireland are favourites but all the Celtic nations could go well and Italy have a win under the belts against South Africa and have three home games. They will be targeting a couple of wins for sure starting off with Wales in Rome.
“Mind you I don’t understand some of the pessimism that seemed to settle around Wales in the autumn. They were caught cold and outplayed by Australia but finished with three wins out of four.
“People have short memories. I’ve played in far worse autumn campaigns than that when we have gone on to much better things. The talent is still there and Rob Howley has freshened things up by getting a few new younger players in. I’d be quite hopeful and my mate Alun-Wyn Jones will do a superb job captaining them but clearly England and Ireland are the form teams.
“England have injuries but have such depth these days. Playing up here I can really appreciate that now. They could put out a Third XV that would still give a very good account of itself. Scotland have something about them as well and I would love Jonathan Humphreys, who coaches their forwards, to enjoy a couple of good wins. I owe him a lot in my career.”
Jones probably won’t get to see a huge amount of the tournament, his priorities over the coming months are firmly with helping Quins through a period when they have tended to struggle with absentees. Safe to say though that head coach Kingston, left, is delighted to have him around
“Adam is a remarkable man, a magnificent man to work with,” Kingston says. “I’ve been working professionally in this industry for 20 years now and I’m not sure I know a more professional man or a better team man than him.”
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