AFTER two good months away on international duty, re-establishing himself as a key man in Scotland’s midfield, followed by a week off to refresh, Huw Jones has now turned his attention back to completing a similar trick at club level with Glasgow Warriors.
The outside-centre’s first spell at Scotstoun between 2017 and 2021 didn’t ever really get going. He struggled to impress Kiwi head coach Dave Rennie, with injuries playing a part in a marked drop-off in confidence and form, and he ended up a peripheral figure at international level while playing his last season at the club out of position at full-back for Warriors under Danny Wilson.
A move to English Premiership side Harlequins for the 2021-22 campaign was a helpful change of scene, but with Chris Harris by then firmly established as a defensive bulwark for the national team in the No 13 jersey, it felt like a light which had shone so brightly – scoring 10 international tries inside a 13 game window between November 2016 and February 2018 – might flicker out largely unnoticed.
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Jones moved back north last summer, keen to push his case for club and country, but a back injury meant he missed the first four months of this season, and it wasn’t until the start of December that he finally made his second debut for Warriors.
The wait was worth it. He hit the ground running when he did finally return to action, with big performances and a try in each of his first three games back against Bath and Perpignan in the Challenge Cup, and against Stormers in the URC.
It was enough to earn a call-up to Scotland’s Six Nations squad at the end of January, but even then, Jones – who is now 29 – was wary of reading too much into the selection.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be in the squad at first, then once I was in, I obviously hoped I was going to play, but I wasn’t holding my breath,” he acknowledges. “I was being realistic about it, thinking I’ll have to train really well and hopefully get a chance at some point.”
When appeared on the team-sheet for the championship opener against England it raised a few eyebrows, but Jones repaid the faith Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend had shown in him with a polished all-round performance which featured a well-taken try to get the ball rolling in a famous win at Twickenham.
Jones ended up starting all five matches and crossed the whitewash four times over the course of the campaign, forming a formidable 12-13 partnership with his Warriors team-mate Sione Tuipulotu. He’s clearly enjoying his rugby, full of confidence, but not taking anything for granted.
“Keep that going – I like it!” he says of the ‘Huwipulotu’ moniker fans have created for his midfield link-up with Tuipulotu.
“A lot of good players will play well together, but you also do need the balance, I think, especially with centres,” he adds. “Sione is a good carrier, he’s able to carry it up the guts because he’s very strong, but he’s also a good ball player when he takes it to the line. So, because he’s got that threat as a carrier, defenders will sit on him, which leaves a little bit of space for me.
“He’s also got a really good kicking game. As a 13, it is really easy for me to run lines off him, whether I’m deeper and going out, or coming for those short ones.
“So, I think that’s a good partnership, and defensively you have to be on the same page all the time, and we’ve got a good defensive system here at Glasgow which is similar to what we have with Scotland, so we are both used to it.
“Looking back, I’ve only played nine games this season so it’s not a lot of rugby,” he continues. “I missed the first couple of months, managed to get in and play four games for Glasgow, then I was away with Scotland, and I’m really grateful to have played all five games in the Six Nations because I wasn’t expecting it.
“That obviously went quite well but now I’m back here with Glasgow and have to focus on that. I’m just looking forward to getting stuck into training and hopefully getting a few more games under my belt.”
While ‘Huwipulotu’ have been away on international duty, Sam Johnson and stand-in captain Stafford McDowall have been outstanding in the middle of the park for Warriors, so it is not going to be a case of the Scotland pair waltzing straight back into the starting XV.
“The team has been going really well and the centres especially are in good form, so it’s a tough team to get into at the moment,” agrees Jones. “It maybe doesn’t come off the tongue in the same way, but Sam and Stafford are playing really well together as well – they just don’t have a cool nickname!
“But Franco [Smith – the Warriors coach] has been really good this season rotating the team – he wants everyone to be fresh but also ready to play with match fitness behind them – so there is going to be opportunities for people to play all season.
“Obviously, when you get to the back end of the campaign you don’t change the 23 as much, so it will get a bit more competitive, but we’re all good mates so we know how it is and whoever is playing we all get behind that guy, and you hope to get your shot next week.”
Warriors host a struggling Dragons outfit in the round of 16 of the Challenge Cup on Saturday evening, and a win in that match would set up a home quarter-final against either the Lions or Finn Russell’s Racing 92 the following weekend.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and we’ve shown that over the last few months when we’ve won 12 out of 13 games,” Jones concludes. “You can see in training that it is really competitive.
“Everyone is in with a chance of playing but you are also clear on when you are playing, so you come into games really raring to go but not worrying too much about whether this is going to be your only chance.
“I think in past seasons we’ve probably burnt out towards the end of the campaign, but the guys have been managed well and coming into this last stretch we’re all feeling good.
“All we’re worried about is wanting to hit our best form, so that’s ideal towards the end of the season.”
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I think HJ was very poorly managed by previous Glasgow management, great to see him in form and reaping the rewards
very poorly treated by Rennie. Then had to leave.
It would be so special to see Glasgow going all the way in the Challenge Cup.
I’ve been a Glasgow fan for quite a long time now (from the time they played at Hughenden).
I was over the moon after the 2015 finale win.
It is time for another silverware.
There seems to be a great spirit in the squad at present, one reflected in the article on Huw Jones. The omens are good!