Less than two years ago Huw Jones was the toast of a nation after his heroics in a famous Calcutta Cup win and appeared to have the world at his feet.
As a new year begins, the Glasgow centre is hoping for a fresh start after a 2019 to forget. Injury, loss of form and an apparent struggle to adapt to life in Scotland after honing his rugby talents in Cape Town led to a drift in which he was left out of Scotland’s World Cup squad for Japan.
The Edinburgh-born 26-year-old had a brief flirtation with a move to Leicester but was convinced to stay put at Scotstoun and fight to regain his 23-cap international career.
“At times I’ve thought about it,” admitted Jones about the possibility of moving on. “It’s been a tough year: I’ve had a couple of injuries, non-selection. I think at times I’ve thought maybe I’m in the wrong place. But not really. It’s a fleeting thought.”
Speaking after a tryscoring display in a 29-19 loss to Edinburgh in the series-levelling 1872 Cup match at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, Jones added: “Basically when you get dropped, five minutes afterwards you’re sulking about it, but you have to get on with your job. You’ve got to help the guys that are playing on the weekend and hopefully you get your chance if you’re training well.”
An undoubted attacking weapon, the feeling has been that Jones can be found wanting in defence, but he is eager to prove his critics wrong.
“[Glasgow head coach] Dave [Rennie] has said there’s not much between me and Nick Grigg. Every time he tells you that you’re not playing, he tells you what he wants you to work on. Often it’s frustrating, because you already are. All you can do is just keep working on it,” said Jones.
“I saw someone tweet something the other day, saying players will say ‘Play me and I’ll show you’ and coaches will say ‘Show me and I’ll play you’. It’s tough to get out of that when you’re not playing, but when you are playing you want to stay there as long as you can.
“I think I enjoy the guys that I’m playing with, I like the environment at Glasgow, but yes, a lot of it is proving people wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been massively out of form – just not playing.
“You could say that’s the same thing, but in my head you can only be out of form if you’re playing badly, not if you’re not playing.”
Born in Edinburgh, but raised in England and schooled at Millfield in Somerset, Jones became a professional rugby player almost by accident while at university in South Africa.
A stellar rise with Western Province and Super Rugby side Stormers led to a Test call-up by Vern Cotter and a stunning foray into the international scene, with ten tries in his first 15 caps.
His finest hour was that day in February 2018 when Scotland demolished what seemed, at the time, an invincible England side 25-13 at BT Murrayfield, Jones scoring twice.
He joined Glasgow in 2017 but has found it hard to replicate his Scotland form at club level and, while contracted to 2021, admits the possibility of moving on has been floated with Rennie.
“Yes, we discussed it,” explained Jones. “I think at the beginning we obviously disagreed. I’ve said to him that I just want to be playing, and he obviously understands that it’s coming from the right place. And obviously now I am playing so I should have no complaints, but hopefully it stays like that.”
Getting a game for Glasgow has been a battle for Jones of late but the thought of playing for Scotland for the first time since the World Cup warm-up against Georgia in Tbilisi has crossed his mind.
“Obviously getting closer to the Six Nations I’m thinking about it – I want to be playing as much as I can to give myself the best chance of getting into that squad,” said the centre.
“This is the first time I’ve had three starts in a row for Glasgow, I think. As a player it’s hard to just come in for one week and play well and then you’re out the next – you can’t get any momentum. But I think once you get a couple of games in a row you can sort of build on them.
“Guys that play week in week out, you say ‘Oh, he’s massively consistent – he’s playing every week’. But you can’t be consistent if you’re not playing every week.
“It’s nice to play. Hopefully I can play again next week.”
There are rules which limit how many successive games Scotland international players can play but that is not an issue for Jones, who just wants to be unleashed and show what he can do.
“I don’t know what the protocol is – I think it’s four or five. I think if I get to that point I’ll be asking not to rest, because I don’t really need it, I’ve had plenty.”