Jones the team's dream at No 10

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Stephen Jones is not your flashy outside-half; he is not a side-stepper and he does not have blistering pace. But he is the form No 10 in the Six Nations' Championship, and if you were picking the Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand right now he would be in like a shot.

Stephen Jones is not your flashy outside-half; he is not a side-stepper and he does not have blistering pace. But he is the form No 10 in the Six Nations' Championship, and if you were picking the Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand right now he would be in like a shot.

There are many components contributing to the great displays that Wales have laid before us in the past month or so and, before last Saturday, Stephen would be among the easiest to overlook, because he is essentially a team player.

Because he doesn't conform to the cheeky image of the Welsh outside-half people tend to underrate him, to play down the effect he can have on a game. Although others took the eye, he played very well in the World Cup.

Perhaps you have to play with him to appreciate exactly how good he is. Or, more pertinently, play without him, as Llanelli have been trying to do this season. With him not there, they lack organisation and leadership. His new club in France, Clermont-Auvergne, certainly appreciate him, and the move seems to have done him good. He is a better player for his short time in French rugby.

What you get from Stephen is solidity. He kicks goals, he gets good length with his kicking out of hand and his tackling is amazing. He is very good with slow ball because he will not give bad ball out. He will use his aggression and power to get over the gain-line himself and set up better ball.

Centres and full-backs appreciate that. He usually does not do much damage himself with the ball in hand, but he makes it so much easier for those around him to do it.

And he can cut you if the opportunity comes. Anyone who doubted that, and I think the French were among them, would have been surprised at the break that helped turn the game Wales's way at the Stade de France last Saturday evening.

When I say he does not have blistering space, I don't mean that he can't run. In fact, he is a lot quicker than he appears, and the way he tore through French out of his own half was stunning.

I think he was slightly taken aback by the fact that he had even outstripped his own team-mates. But he didn't panic and managed to keep possession for 50 or more yards until support came. That was the trigger for the first Welsh try and the amazing comeback that followed.

Jones is a great enthusiast, wears his heart on his sleeve and has always been confident in his own ability. So to be man of the match in such a tremendous game was a great reward for him, and for those who have trusted in him.

The French might be regretting that he moved over there, because it has already had a positive effect on his approach to the game. There is a big difference in French rugby in that they don't tend to go through phases like we do these days. Theirs is more of an unstructured game. They hit the ball at pace, set up a phase and give it to the outside-half. Then they wait for him to decide what to do.

That's how it used to be. The outside-half is the decision-maker, so give him the ball and let him orchestrate things from there. It's big responsibility, but Stephen is enjoying the experience. He has been telling me that he feels he has become a sharper and more skilful player.

Amid the wholehearted team effort and belief that Wales have shown, the form of Martyn Williams has been an eye-opener. Over the three matches he has been consistently the best player in the tournament. He wasn't visible so much in the first half of the French game, but he still did good work in slowing the ball down and trying to break the French tempo. Then, in the second half, he came into his own.

The Welsh coach, Mike Ruddock, has some interesting selection posers for the trip to Scotland next weekend. Wales will be without their skipper, Gareth Thomas, at Murrayfield but, fortunately, they can call on Kevin Morgan to come in at full-back. They will still miss Thomas, though, because he has the habit of doing good things at the right time.

Without his intervention, Wales might have been swept out of sight in the first half. France were leading 15-3 when Julien Laharrague made a surging run down the left and the French had a two-to-one advantage over Thomas, but the Welsh captain duped the Frenchman into having a go himself and nailed him.

But for that tackle, France would have been at least 20-3 ahead. As it turned out, Jones potted a penalty that made it 15-6 and left the door open for Wales.

Strange as it may seem, France will have got more confidence from that defeat than they did from their previous two victories, and Ireland had better be warned that the French will have their cutting edge back when the sides meet at Dublin on Saturday.

Comments