Glasgow's Lee Jones says sevens helped revive his career
Lee Jones' first four Scotland caps came in little over four weeks but the wait to add a fifth took five years as the Glasgow Warriors wing worked his way back to the top via the national sevens programme.
The 29-year-old, who joined Edinburgh from Selkirk in 2010 before switching to Glasgow four years later, admits that he might not still be playing rugby for a living if it hadn’t been for the safety net of the abbreviated game’s World Series circuit.
Jones, who can also cover scrum-half, forced his way back into the Warriors side last season and was rewarded with a fifth cap in Scotland’s famous win over Australia in Sydney during the summer tour.
Jones played in the first four Six Nations games of 2012, scoring a try against France at Murrayfield, but a head injury against Ireland in Dublin meant he missed the last game against Italy and it would take half a decade to get back in a Test jersey.
There was plenty donning of the blue jersey in the sevens format, including at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, as the Borderer embarked on a dual contract with the Warriors which he views as a vital lifeline to continuing his career.
“One hundred per cent. For me, over the past four or five years, the sevens have been massive,” he said after training at Scotstoun in preparation for tomorrow night’s Guinness Pro14 match at Cardiff Blues.
“At times, when I potentially wasn’t playing for Glasgow or Edinburgh, it’s been something I’ve been able to go and do and get a really high level of rugby. For me, every time I went back to sevens it was improving.
“The Scotland team was stronger and the World Series as a whole seemed a lot better.
“It is a ridiculously high level of rugby. In terms of basic skills it was massive for me. I don’t know if I would be here now if it wasn’t for the sevens programme.”
Jones admits that going back and forward from the two games was a challenge, with the switch to sevens actually more difficult than vice versa.
“For me it probably became a bit more difficult,” he added. “I think the conditioning element in the sevens really improved for Scotland over the last few years. I almost needed a few weeks at least to get back into that way of fitness and the way of playing.
“In essence it is the same game. You take a couple of weeks to get back up to speed but both offer something.
“I think that going from sevens to 15s is a wee bit easier. I always felt that when I had been playing sevens I always felt really sharp coming back in. Coming back into 15s I always felt really good and sharp.”
Jones stormed back on to the scene at Scotstoun last season, earning himself a nomination for the supporters’ player of the year award.
“Last season was really positive for me,” he said. “It was great to get on tour at the end of it and it has been great to get a run in the first couple of games.
“It’s been good to get more consistent game time and perform well, and hopefully that will continue.”
With Glasgow two from two and Cardiff the opposite, Jones is comfortable with the suggestion that the Scots are favourites to add to their wins at Connacht and at home to Ospreys with victory in the Welsh capital tomorrow.
“I would imagine so,” he said. “With them losing the first two games they must be pretty disappointed and will be looking for a response, especially at home.
“They want something to show the crowd. The Welsh teams are always good at that when they’ve maybe had a couple of results against them.
“It will be a tough game. For us, even though we won the first two games, there is a lot we can improve on.
“We are looking to do that and make it as difficult as possible for Cardiff.”
Jones has plenty of experience of coaching changes and is enjoying working with new boss Dave Rennie and attack coach Jason O’Halloran.
“Knowing that Dave was coming from a team like the Chiefs, who play a positive kind of rugby, made me feel he wanted to play a positive kind of game,” said Jones.
“Jason is really good. He is similar to Gregor in his focus on basic skills. He notices things on video – simple things, but if you don’t get them right the next bit is not going to go right. Catch and pass skills, squaring up defenders, Jason is really drilling the backs on basics done well.”