HUW JONES agrees that defence has not always been his strong suit, but he feels that some of the criticism of that aspect of his game has been inaccurate and lazy.
The 29-year-old was a key player for Scotland during the early days of the Gregor Townsend era, but a combination of injury, a lack of game time at Glasgow Warriors and a drop-off in form meant he was a surprise exclusion from the 2019 World Cup squad, and he has been a frustrated onlooker for most of the last four years while Chris Harris has established himself as the team’s defensive lynchpin in the No 13 channel.
However, his recent return to full fitness and form after re-joining Glasgow during the summer following a season playing for Harlequins, led to his recall to the national team for the first time in two years last Saturday, and the 29-year-old marked the occasion by scoring Scotland’s opening try in a historic win over England at Twickenham. He also made 12 tackles with no misses.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Jones of his recall. “I was really excited but nervous as well. He [Harris] is a fantastic player and in camp he’s been a big help to me. He wasn’t negative at all about the selection. He’s there and helping us out. And he’s still a defensive leader in those leadership groups and still taking charge of that.
“But I was excited to be selected. Over the past couple of seasons that [defence] is an area of my game that’s really improved and I felt ready to take on that challenge on the international stage. I felt a lot more prepared than I maybe was a few years ago.
“I was aware that at international level my defence needed to be better. We have a really good defensive system under Steve Tandy which makes it a lot easier to defend. Everyone’s on the same page.
“Thirteen is a hard channel to defend in and you can be put under a lot of pressure and almost hung out to dry at times. But with the team we’ve got and the trust we have in our defensive system that happens a lot less.
“At Glasgow our defensive shape is similar to here. I feel better prepared to deal with any situation than I maybe was a few years ago.”
Asked if he feels his defence was unfairly maligned, he replies: “I think there is an element of that. I like the quote, ‘You’re never as good as they say you are and you’re never as bad as they say you are’.
“A lot was made of my weaknesses in defence and some of it was pretty harsh and not quite accurate. I have missed some tackles, but so has everyone. Some of the tackles I missed led to tries and that really sucks, but that is just the nature of being an outside back sometimes. That’s where the space is.
“I can improve every area of my game. It did hurt me that my defence was a big focal point for a number of years. I wanted to improve that and I knew it was an area where I needed to get better, but some of the criticism in the last couple of years has been lazy as I’ve been branded as a poor defender, when recently my defence has been good.
“I hope that stigma is now changing as I’m putting in good defensive performances. Hopefully I can put in another one on the weekend.”
Scotland have never managed to win their first two games in a championship since beating Ireland and France back in 1996, so Jones knows they have a point to prove on Saturday before they can dare to dream of any greater achievement such as actually winning the title.
“We come in every year and like to think we’ve got a chance, but we haven’t proved that really. Historically we’ve had some big wins but we’ve not always managed to back them up. We’ll get to the end of a championship and we’ll always be disappointed with how we’ve done and we’ll think we could have done a lot better with the guys we’ve got in the room.
“So building momentum is key now. Winning the first two games would be huge and then that will give us confidence. But not too much that we’ll become over-confident, because we know that there are big games coming up.
“If we can win this weekend it will put us in a good place going forward. And we know that then there’s more on the line rather than just trying to finish as high as we can. We’ll know we’ll have a chance to do something special here.”