Six Nations: Italy v Scotland: Huw Jones revels on doing the unseen work well

Centre's willingness to roll up his sleeves has led to a resurgence in his career after a tough couple of seasons

Huw Jones during Scotland training at Oriam earlier this week. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Huw Jones during Scotland training at Oriam earlier this week. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THERE was a time when Huw Jones was regarded as a luxury player, with the ability to burst a game wide open by running a clever line at pace, but not someone who could be relied upon when it came to the less glamorous jobs of defence and clearing rucks.

That dichotomy in his game was regarded as the chief reason behind his fall from near automatic pick for the national team when he scored 10 tries in his first 14 caps following his debut in the summer of 2016, to missing out altogether on selection for the squad for the 2019 World Cup and then being  ushered out of the door at Glasgow at the end of the 2020-21 season after his confidence and form had plummeted under Dave Rennie then Danny Wilson.

Now, according to Scotland assistant coach Pete Horne, himself a former international midfielder, Jones has mastered the unglamorous side of his game to such an extent that it is the nuts and bolts which makes him a stick-on for the dark blue No 13 jersey, while his eye for a gap and pace to exploit it is an added bonus.


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“Huw always plays well,” said Horne earlier this week. “I feel like his attention to detail in the unflashy things has just gone way up from when he was younger. You take that stuff for granted because of his x-factor but the pride he now takes in that stuff has elevated him.

“Now he’s so consistently good that his x-factor stuff is just a little bonus when he does give you one of those big line-breaks every game. It’s all the other bits of his game that are at such a level, he picks himself.

“He’s going really well. I’m really proud of him. He gets a rep for being that flashy player but he does so much of the stuff that goes amiss – like outworking the opposition defence to make another pair of hands, to running a dummy line. His running lines are the best in the world. He’s flying just now and long may that continue.”

Jones – who spent the 2021-22 season with Harlequins, then returned to Glasgow at the start of last season, and recently turned down the opportunity of a glamour move to France to play for Montpellier – shrugged modestly when that assessment was put to him.

“It’s happened a bit more with experience, but I have made a conscious effort,” he reflected. “Through the training we were doing, there was a big focus on speed of ball at Quins, so the breakdown was a real important area for us, at Glasgow it has been the same the last couple of seasons, and that’s a big focus here [at Scotland] as well – speed of ball – so it is good that I have been playing for teams that want to play fast rugby.

“But that’s just one of those things that you have to [work on], you’ve just got to clear breakdowns by getting in quickly. With the physicality side of it as well and my defence working with Steve Tandy [Scotland’s defence coach], I think that whole area has been a big focus for me to improve. And Pete [Horne] tells me quite a lot that it has improved, so that’s good.”

 

 

Jones’ form has undoubtedly been helped by playing alongside Sione Tuipulotu at club and international level these last two seasons – forming a centre partnership dubbed ‘Huwipulotu’ by fans – but a knee injury to his partner in crime means that somebody else will be in the No 12 jersey against Italy this weekend (with Gregor Townsend set to name his team for that match at lunchtime on Thursday).

Cam Redpath, who did well off the bench when Tuipulotu had to retire from the match just after half-time against England last time out, and Stafford McDowall are the two front-runners for selection to that vacant inside-centre slot. For his part, Jones insists he would be comfortable playing alongside either option.

“It is a shame to lose Sione but we should make it so it’s not too much of a difference. The way we train should hopefully translate on to the field. Cam’s come off the bench in the last couple of games so I’ve played with him a bit and I’ve played with Staff quite a lot at Glasgow.

“Staff has been huge for Glasgow the last couple of seasons, and especially the last couple of weeks. He’s obviously a massive guy but his physicality has improved hugely over the last couple of seasons. He imposes himself really well defensively. He’s obviously a good leader. He’s captained Glasgow quite a few times now. He’s always been a good distributor – I think he maybe played 10 a bit growing up – he’s got a good left boot and a good pass on him – and he’s now added his ball carrying ability. So, like I say, he’s really improved over the last couple of seasons massively.”

Winger Kyle Steyn missed Scotland’s defeat to France because his wife went into labour on the eve of the match, and Jones acknowledged that there is a possibility he could find himself in a similar position given that his wife, Annabel, is also heavily pregnant.

“She’s promised she’ll hold it in!” he smiled. “We’re due for the first week in April, which is actually our game against Quins in Europe. We’ll see, but hopefully we’ll be able to hold on for a couple of weeks!”


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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

8 Comments

  1. I really wish Peter Horne wouldn’t make public pronouncements about Huw Jone’s running lines being the ‘best in the world’! On what criteria is he making this statement? Is there any data or evidence to back it up? Even if it does exist, let’s keep it humble lads, talking on the pitch please!

  2. Totally agree Patrick. Harris took a lot of flak but in a few games, his defensive work was an essential part of a Scottish win, notably Calcutta Cup in 2021. That was the strategy then – we can debate whether that was the correct strategy or not – and Harris did a good job for the team within that strategy and on a few occasions, made some good contributions in attack. The team has moved on and Jones has massively improved as a defensive centre so quite right he is now the incumbent of the 13 shirt. Definitely a shame that he wasn’t much better managed a few seasons ago but delighted we now have some great all-round midfielders which provides us with a more formidable back line. I keep mentioning McDowall, I hope he doesn’t end up falling into the same development trap that Jones did as he could be a massive asset in midfield when we need to play a more direct type of game.

  3. Never understood the lack of loyalty towards Jones. Its clear even from an early age he was a bit special. His drop in form coincided with patchy periods in his club and I think he was hard done by.

    Always one of my favourite players for many reasons. Not just the intercepts, line breaks and tries. He’s a fabulous example of a rugby player who understands team work.

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    • He has always clearly been one of our most talented players. I feel like he’s one of those ‘what could have been players’, alongside Mark Bennett (also a 13 funnily enough). Really should have reached over 50 caps for Scotland ages ago and mad to think in two stints at Glasgow he still has less than 70 caps. Personally still resent how much trust was put in Chris Harris for years (who has the same amount of caps as Huw) when all Huw Jones needed was some support and backing instead of being messed about by coaches, and we could have had him reaching his full potential much sooner.

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      • Is Huw a “what could’ve been” player? I think he’s the best 13 Scotland have seen in… well since the 90’s at least. His Scotland form was never inconsistent, but it’s fair to say his club form could be. I think the Harris selections were about Toonie trying to evolve a game plan. It’s as if the era has gone all out attack, all out defence, now attack & defence married as a mature team. Harris was probably the right guy for all out defence.

        But Huw is just a fabulous player with a clear eye for the gap and he’s really turned into a very good defender as well.

        I would say what’s he’s really turned into is a player that also makes those around him better.

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