He was born in Edinburgh, given a Welsh-sounding name, raised in England and has spent the past four years in South Africa but Huw Jones insisted yesterday there is only one country for him.
The newest recruit to the Scotland squad for the upcoming tour to Japan spoke to the media at BT Murrayfield yesterday and explained that any Welsh connection was distant and South Africa, for whom he qualifies on residency, has never been entertained. He may speak with a Western Cape-infused English accent but was keen to pledge allegiance to the land of his birth.
“I’ve always supported Scotland when watching the Six Nations growing up and had a Scottish flag hanging above my bed since I was 11 or so,” said the Stormers centre.
“I’ve still got the flag in Cape Town now. I wasn’t expecting to get the call at all but when I did it didn’t take long to make the decision.”
The 22-year-old’s parents, William and Hilary, are graduates of Edinburgh University and remained in the city to pursue teaching careers. His mother’s father was Scottish – a Forbes – so Jones would be Scottish qualified even if he hadn’t been born at the old Eastern General hospital in Leith, while his dad was a primary teacher at George Watson’s College. “His claim to fame is he once coached Scott Hastings,” revealed the man who hopes to follow the legendary former centre into the dark blue No 13 jersey.
Jones is currently trying to shake off a foot strain as the squad prepares to fly out to the Far East tomorrow for a two-Test series on 18 and 25 June. However, even if coach Vern Cotter doesn’t manage to get Jones on to the pitch and locked in as official Scotland property, there doesn’t seem much cause for concern that he may yet opt for the country that has become his adopted home and the making of him as a professional rugby player.
“I don’t think South Africa would ever consider me,” said Jones. “I wouldn’t ever consider South Africa an option. I would never support the Springboks, let alone want to play for them. They know that, I’ve told them.”
After spending his first two years in Musselburgh, the Joneses moved south and Huw attended the famous Millfield School in Somerset, where he played scrum-half and stand-off, but was not completely serious about the game until he went out to South Africa, first on a gap year and then staying on at Cape Town University (UCT). He had initially intended to study in south Wales and, while he believes his father’s heritage is too distant to have any tangible qualification for the red jersey, his remarks about the Principality’s second city would probably rule him out at any rate.
“I didn’t plan to play rugby in South Africa, I took a gap year at a prep school, just a year out because I was planning to go to Swansea uni, to study history, but while I was in Cape Town my brother, who was at Swansea, said it was rubbish.
“So I got an opportunity to study at Cape Town, and play Varsity Cup rugby which is quite high profile and I decided to go with that. I studied Italian, French, psychology and media the first year, and then halfway through second year I had to stop studying because that’s when I started playing with the Stormers.”
While at school he took part in a Scottish Exiles Under-18 training session, which didn’t lead to anything, and it was not until he was playing Varsity Cup that he reappeared on the Scottish rugby radar.
Jones explained: “Gavin Vaughan, who is an analyst at Glasgow, watches a lot of rugby and saw some Varsity games and when he checked the UCT Wikipedia page I was listed as Scottish on that so he got in contact with me on the back of that.”
That led to a visit to Scotstoun in 2014 and Jones said: “I have chatted to Gregor [Townsend], I watched a game against Munster when I was there. It’s a nice place and they took good care of me, Al Kellock gave me a good tour of the stadium. They have a great squad. I’ve had contacts with them and chatted to them a bit but I wanted to stay at the Stormers.”
Earlier this week, the Scotland backs coach Jason O’Halloran suggested that it would be preferable if Jones could move to one of the Scottish pro teams. Jones accepts that the unusual scenario of playing for a southern hemisphere club and a northern nation brings complications with the different seasons, but hinted it may not be the easiest issue to resolve.
He explained: “I’m under contract until October next year. I don’t have a clause to get a release so if I was to come away it would have to be some very good negotiating, but I haven’t thought about that. I’d obviously consider it, but there’s no telling whether I’d go for it, it would depend on which club and the circumstances and all the rest of it.
“I haven’t had that conversation [with O’Halloran] but I can see his point of view that it would help but at the moment I’ve only just got involved and hoping to get my first cap. I’m still concentrating on club rugby with the Stormers.
“Super Rugby finishes at the beginning of August, then Currie Cup after that but I was released to this so I’m sure if I was picked again for the autumn Tests it wouldn’t be a problem.
“Six Nations next year? I suppose that’s another issue, but we’ll cross that bridge if it comes.”