Stephen Jones gains new buzz from life at Wasps

The 34-year-old has no thoughts of international retirement as he embraces his new role in England in style

It is three years since Stephen Jones published an autobiography, under the entirely appropriate title A Thinking Man's Game, in which he lavished praise on the notoriously Vesuvian coach Shaun Edwards, lauding the Wales defence strategist's mastery of structure, his command of technique and his "unique" motivational skills. He also wrote that Edwards "takes defeat very personally" – a line that must have reoccurred to the outside-half as he was kicking his 23rd and final point in the closing seconds of Wasps' comprehensive victory over London Irish at Adams Park last weekend.

Edwards used to coach at Wasps. Now, he coaches the Exiles – a team who have shipped 40 points minimum in each of their three Premiership outings to date, at the alarming rate of one every 115.2 seconds. So what did Jones say to Edwards, this "approachable man whose door is always open", after stripping another layer of varnish from his reputation? The most decorated player in the history of Welsh rugby did not say anything at all, as it turned out. "I thought it best to keep my head down, so I didn't go there," he replies, indicating that, if he has learnt anything over the course of a 16-year professional career, it is the importance of not poking an angry animal with a sharp stick.

Once upon a time, a player from Jones' background – he was born in Aberystwyth, joined Llanelli as a teenager and drank in the Scarlets' special spirit like mother's milk – would have been hopelessly bewildered by the mere mention of a move to London. But Jones has seen too much of this hard old game to be bewildered by anything, except, perhaps, its web of connections and coincidences.

The director of rugby at Wasps is Dai Young, under whose captaincy he played international rugby in the early 2000s, and the backs coach is Shane Howarth, a fellow member of the Wales squad at the 1999 World Cup. That is not the half of it. Jones has just moved to a house in Kew, handily placed for the daily drive to training in Acton. Who should be living along the road? Why, none other than his namesake Lyn, a living Llanelli legend when Jones was closing in on a first professional contract at Stradey Park and now boss at London Welsh, the Premiership newcomers.

And today? When Wasps take on Gloucester at Kingsholm this afternoon, Jones will be pitting his wits against Nigel Davies, one of the fixed points of his career, initially as a fellow midfielder but mostly as a coach. "We go back a long, long way and I have the utmost respect for him," Jones said of Davies, who also left Scarlets at the end of last season for a fresh start in the English shires. "When I first joined Llanelli in '96, he was the automatic choice at inside centre. He was one of the players you watched in the hope of learning something. Sixteen years is a good while, isn't it? He seems to have been a part of my life for ever."

Jones won his 104th cap for Wales in the bronze medal match with Australia at the 2011 World Cup and has not set foot on the Test field since, although he made the bench for the Six Nations win over England in February. Since his move to Wasps, many in his homeland have put two and two together and concluded he is now in international retirement, in the practical sense if not the official one. Can this be true? In a Lions year of all years? Jones played outside-half when the Lions beat the Springboks in Johannesburg last time out – indeed, he was the starting 10 in five of their last six Tests – and is therefore the current owner of the shirt, in so far as anyone ever owns it. Has he really jacked it in?

"No, I have not retired from international rugby," he says, categorically. "I'm definitely available for Wales, and for anything else that might crop up. Whether Wales are still interested in me – well, that's another issue, isn't it? I'm not sure how they view things now: I'm 34, I'm playing my rugby in England and, if I'm honest, my whole focus is on helping Wasps get back to where they once were. Ten years ago, my focus would have been different: I would have looked at things from more of an international perspective. But while I'm concentrating solely on Wasps these days, I would never say 'no' to Wales or the Lions. A Lions year is a massive year, by definition, and this year is a massive one for me. It's just that it's massive in another kind of way."

Young made his initial pitch for Jones two-thirds of the way through last season and it made perfect sense: for all the youthful brio of the latest generation of graduates from Rob Smith's state-of-the-art academy set-up, Wasps were finding it impossible to compensate for the almost complete absence of know-how. "I quickly decided it was an attractive, exciting offer," Jones says. "I'd had my couple of years in French club rugby and enjoyed the experience. Club rugby in England would be different again, so I thought, 'Why not?'"

True to character – Jones is one of the sport's 24-carat good guys, as well as one of its finest practitioners – he did not negotiate an escape clause that would give him a contractual get-out if the worst came to the worst and Wasps were relegated. "The deal was done in April, well before the last game of the season against Newcastle, a match that could have sent them down," he recalls. "I was well aware of the situation the club were in: that last game of the season was an interesting one, that's for sure. But having told Dai I'd be coming, I wouldn't have gone back on it, whatever happened. I'd committed myself, and that was that."

So what did he find when he arrived? "The first thing that struck me was the energy around the place," he says. "It immediately reminded me of the atmosphere at Scarlets two or three years back: a squad short of experience, but with a really strong group of young players coming through the system and starting to push hard for first-team places. These kids at Wasps are not just quality players, but quality people too – people with a work ethic to match their ambition. If I can help them make the best of themselves over the next couple of seasons, I'll be satisfied.

"But this is about making the best of myself, too: I'm as keen to play at the top level as I've ever been. The body might creak a bit now and again, but flesh and blood can put up with a hell of a lot if the mind is fresh and the desire is there. That's where I am right now, I think.

"Maybe some players of my age live purely for the game on a Saturday, but it's never been like that for me. I enjoy the whole working week: I have a smile on my face Monday to Friday because I love the training as well as the playing. Rugby is such a hard sport, a brutal sport, that I couldn't imagine anyone playing well at 34 if their heart wasn't in it. Me? I'm still up for it. Absolutely."

It was back in May that Jones bade the fondest of farewells to his beloved Scarlets, contributing handsomely to a 29-20 victory over Cardiff Blues before exiting stage left to a standing ovation from the home supporters and embarking on a "big night out, although I spent the whole of it in the clubhouse".

He had made well over 300 appearances in the famous red shirt and accumulated a record-breaking 2,850 points. The aforementioned Davies, who would quickly follow Jones out of Llanelli, had this to say before kick-off: "His contribution has been immense. He's instantly recognisable as one of the great Scarlets. For me, he epitomises the modern No 10 in every way."

Davies would, given the choice, prefer Jones to be something less than immense and a long way short of great at Kingsholm today, but knowing him as he does, the coach will not be banking on the finest northern hemisphere outside-half of recent years making a mess of it. As the man himself says: "I haven't come over here to England to take things easy. I'm here to win."

Jones in numbers

23 Points on Wasps debut, v London Irish last week

8 Jones captained Wales eight times in winning a record 104 caps

917 Points scored by Jones for Wales - second only to Neil Jenkins' total of 1,049 points

53 Number of points scored for the Lions, in his six appearances

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players