It is easy to cry tears of laughter at the state of Welsh rugby – not every union-playing country could concoct a situation in which the national captain is being handsomely paid not to play any union – but Adam Jones, until recently the undisputed king of tight-head props, has been close to tears of a different kind just recently. Nothing that has happened to Jones since the turn of the year has been remotely funny, which is why the prospect of making a fresh start at the grand old age of 33 appeals so much to him.
“I wouldn’t wish the uncertainty I’ve experienced on anyone,” Jones remarked today on his first public appearance since joining Cardiff Blues from Ospreys – a rough rugby equivalent of switching to Manchester United from Liverpool. “While I had a lot of offers from here, there and everywhere, I was keen to stay with Ospreys. But the new deal was always dependent on this happening or that happening. There was only so long I could hang on.”
Jones was referring to the interminable political stand-off between the governing body and the four professional regional sides over a new participation agreement – a dispute that has left a player as celebrated as Sam Warburton, the Blues flanker and Wales captain, in a state of suspended animation. Warburton signed a central contract with the Welsh Rugby Union, just as the regions were deciding not to pick anyone agreeing to such a deal. Between them, he and Jones have come to symbolise a row that has caused enormous damage to the fabric of the game on the far side of the Severn Bridge.
“What we’re going through in Wales is unprecedented,” Jones said. “If you find yourselves in a position where your national captain can’t play any rugby… well, it’s a strange one. There are rumours that a solution will be coming soon. I hope that’s the case, because we’ve been stuck in the middle of all this. For Sam’s sake, I hope it’s sorted.”
A Lions Test forward of serious standing – Jones played some brilliant rugby on the tour of South Africa in 2009 and again in Australia in 2013 – he found last season something of a trial. Changes to the scrum engagement reduced his impact at the set piece and he duly lost his place in the Wales front row during the series against the Springboks in June. Overshadowing it all was the contractual impasse at Ospreys.
“I don’t want to slag them off – I’ve never had an issue with Ospreys and they’ve always been above board in their dealings with me – but I was pretty pissed off at the way things came out when I moved to the Blues,” he said, referring to a blunt public statement from the Swansea-based side in which expressions of thanks for services rendered were conspicuous by their absence.
“Happily, the reaction from the supporters has been 95 per cent positive. The important thing now is to put last season behind me and play well here. I want that Wales jersey back.”