Jamie Jones-Buchanan: Ticking the boxes as jack of all trades

Politics, gardening, keeping chickens – the Leeds man leads a varied life away from the pitch. He has even interviewed one of tonight's opposition, he tells Dave Hadfield

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The Independent Online

It is a common complaint among old-stagers that since rugby league became a full-time occupation, players no longer have a life outside the game. They play rugby and they do nothing else. It is not a generalisation that stands up to much of a conversation with Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

"JJB", as he is known in the game's shorthand, will be in the second row for Leeds in their sudden-death playoff at Huddersfield tonight – an instantly recognisable figure, even without the huge beard he grew last year, and the Rhinos' player of the year this season. The miracle is that he finds the time.

Jones-Buchanan's industry on the pitch is not subject to question; he regularly leads the Leeds statistics for tackles made and metres gained. But off the field as well, he is something of a renaissance man, as well as an exceptionally busy one. He is a voracious reader, with a particular interest in politics – "not so much what happened as why it happened" is the way he puts it – a keen gardener and fisherman. Also he keeps chickens and is looking for some extra space in which to rear goats.

On top of that, he coaches kids at his old amateur club, Stanningley, and just happens to have three of his own – Lore, Dacx and Kurgan, all aged between two and four.

When others are relaxing at the end of a gruelling season, he will be preparing for a 130-mile bike ride from Morecambe to Bridlington, in aid of Leeds Mencap, an organisation with which he is heavily involved.

Jones-Buchanan is also an active member of an evangelical church, having been introduced to that branch of christianity by his team-mate, Ali Lauitiiti. Perhaps most startlingly, though, he has a foot in print journalism, contributing a perceptive series of interviews with other players to the monthly magazine Rugby League World.

"It's something I really enjoy," he says. "You get a different perspective when you've played with and against the player you're writing about. It's another string to my bow and I think I might put all the interviews into a book." As luck would have it, he was about to transcribe his latest interview, with one of tonight's opponents, Huddersfield full-back, Scott Grix.

Rugby league is a relatively small world, where everyone knows everyone else, but it would still be unusual if Jones-Buchanan was to clatter him in a typical tackle tonight and add, as an afterthought: "Thanks for doing that interview, Scott."

In theory, "JJB" could get insights into what makes his interviewees tick that could be useful to him the next time he faces them. In the case of Grix, the procedure has given him a heightened respect for his opponent. "Him and his brother, Simon, at Warrington, they've had a lot of hurdles to overcome. They didn't come through the Academy at a Super League club like most of us."

Jones-Buchanan progressed through that system at Leeds with the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow – Headingley's own golden generation. They have achieved most things together, apart from winning the Challenge Cup – which is why they were so gutted by the honourable defeat to Wigan at Wembley last month.

Jones-Buchanan, now a senior player at 30, will be at the forefront as the Rhinos try to channel that disappointment and salvage the season. "It's strange really. Nobody's really noticed us this season, but it could still be one of our best seasons ever," he says. "Personally, I've enjoyed it more than any season I've had."

For that, he gives a lot of credit to his coach, Brian McDermott, for helping him make the transition to something of an elder statesman.

It has not been an easy first year in charge for the former Test prop, contending with a heavy injury list, inconsistent form and scathing criticism from disgruntled fans. "We've made some changes, and sometimes you have to get worse before you get better," Jones-Buchanan adds.

That transitional stage was reflected in the selection of the Super League Dream Team last week. Uniquely, Leeds did not have a single player in it – something that McDermott suggested some of them might draw upon for motivation in what remained of the season.

"Well, it's picked by journalists isn't it," Jones-Buchanan points out, momentarily discarding that particular hat. "Sometimes you have to play with or against certain players before you appreciate how much they contribute." Either that or interview them at length. Or possibly go fishing, or cycling across the north of England with them.

Sky now screens Super League matches in 3D; Jamie Jones-Buchanan is living proof that some of its protagonists are anything but one-dimensional.