Rugby Union: A flanker and a prankster; Five Nations' Championship: Serious business at Lansdowne Road for the Welsh jester and the find of Ireland

Tim Glover talks to Kingsley Jones, the pride of Ebbw Vale who loves to rib Arwel
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The Independent Online
IF THERE is any consolation for Arwel Thomas in being demoted to the Wales A team next weekend it is that he will be out of earshot of Kingsley Jones. Most people are under the impression that the Welsh had enough jokers in the pack following the debacle against England at Twickenham, but then along came Jones.

The Ebbw Vale flanker was described by Thomas as the person he'd least like to have a drink with. "He never stops talking and crowing," Arwel said. "He's so full of himself." During Welsh squad training in Cardiff in mid-week, a ball bounced awkwardly and hit Thomas between the legs. "It was a painful moment," Jones said. "Arwel let out a groan. I sympathised. I said 'That's a bit unfortunate, Arwel, it's hit you right in the fanny.' The rest of the boys saw the funny side of it." Thomas responded by hiding Jones's scrum-cap beneath the wheel of a van.

After the team announcement last Thursday, Thomas, whose place on the bench for the match against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday has gone to the Ebbw Vale stand-off Byron Hayward, would probably have preferred to put Jones under the wheels of a heavy goods vehicle.

During the baiting of Arwel, Jones never stopped singing Hayward's praises. "It's just a bit of fun," Jones said. "It's nothing serious. I wind everyone up. I'm a chopsy fellow." It must be in the genes.

His father, Phil Kingsley Jones was a stand-up comic before making a bigger name for himself as the manager of the All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu. "I remember seeing my father on stage at the London Palladium in 1977," Jones said. He also recalls the Butlin's star trail, New Faces and Friday- night visits to holiday camps at Minehead and Pwllheli. "The Redcoats used to make a fuss of me."

From Redcoats to a red scrum-cap which has become a trademark in the emergence of Jones. Josh Kronfeld, the New Zealand open side, wears a black one to protect his skull following a surfing accident. They don't do much surfing in Ebbw. "I've got a condition known as herpes simplex 2," Jones said. Alias scrum pox. "It could be around for 10 years. I've been to Harley Street. I've spent pounds 3,000 on tablets but nothing stops it surfacing every six weeks or so." But why a red scrum-cap? Softer on the skin, apparently.

On the eve of that infamous Welsh defeat to England, Jones captained Wales A to an impressive victory at Leicester. At Twickenham he watched the match from the stand. "Once it got beyond 30 points I began to think that perhaps I was fortunate I wasn't in the senior side. I was just glad to be with the A team and was looking forward to the next game." Instead he was promoted for the Five Nations game against Scotland last Saturday.

"We could have played better," Jones, who won his seventh cap, said, "but a win was so important. The crowd gave us a lift. There was a feeling that they'd turn their back on us after being let down at Twickenham."

A shoulder injury put Jones on the right track last summer, more specifically the running track. He trained with the decathlete Brian Taylor, who had played for Twickenham and Harlequins. "It did me the world of good. I lost weight and gained speed."

Captained by Jones, Ebbw Vale have become a force in Wales this season, knocking the holders Cardiff out of the Welsh Cup, 24-9. There are several reasons for the restoration of a Valley club that seemed in terminal decline. "In the Eighties, the town was the pits," Jones said. In fact, it was the closure of the pits that added to the despondency.

Marcus Russell, the manager of Oasis, and his brother Paul, an executive with Andersen Consultancy, have returned to their roots to invest time and money although they haven't persuaded the members of the group, who for some reason prefer Manchester City, to join the bandwagon.

Similarly, players such as Jones and Hayward, who had joined neighbouring clubs, came home. "Byron and I have spent most of our lives four doors apart. We have also spent it fighting each other. The club went wrong because it lost its home-grown talent. We are a tightly knit team. If we recruit somebody now, we don't just ask if he's a good player but whether he will fit in. We're not just team-mates, we are friends. We are developing along very sensible lines and a lot of the squad are teenagers with terrific potential." Some are not so young, including Jones' back-row partners Mark Jones and Richie Collins. "Apart from having an average age of 73, they are playing some great rugby," said Jones, who is 27. "That's why I've got back into the Wales team. I've got a freer role which catches the eye. When I first played for Wales, I was worrying about my own performance rather than the team's."

His importance hit home to Ebbw yesterday as they were beaten 63-3 at Swansea when Jones was having a well-earned rest. The flanker has had experience of the twilight zone. When he played for Cross Keys they created history by failing to win a single league game in a season. He also had a spell with Pontypridd, another club that Ebbw have beaten this year.

"It was a very interesting learning curve. When I played for Cross Keys against South Wales Police they would kick lumps out of us because they knew they could. When I played for Ponty against the Police, they would lie down. It was amazing." When Jones retires his ambition is to coach Ebbw Vale. He also has a sideline: after-dinner speaking. During the conversation, he declined an invitation to speak next week at a public school in Devon. "I used to do it for petrol money although now nobody would blink if you charged them pounds 500. But I don't want to make a serious living out of it."

There is Ireland to think about, not to mention getting Ebbw into the European Cup. There's also a date with Swansea, and Arwel, in the quarter- finals of the Welsh Cup. "I'm looking forward," Jones said, "to getting my hands around his little neck."

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