Scotland Rugby’s Lee Jones on the Commonwealth Games, sevens and national success

Fresh from representing Scotland in the rugby sevens at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, Lee Jones talks to ENRG Sport’s Ryan Nixon about his experience on the Gold Coast and his season as a whole.

With the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games coming to an end in April, the numerous Team Scotland athletes have returned home, after placing a respectable eighth in the final medal table behind the likes of England, Australia and India. One of these athletes was rugby player Lee Jones, who I was lucky enough to question on not only his experience out on the Gold Coast, but some of his thoughts and reflections on the season of rugby he has had this past year.

The 29-year-old winger currently turns out for Guinness Pro14 side Glasgow Warriors, who he is under contract with until 2019. Jones has also made eight appearances for Scotland since his debut in 2012. He was drafted into the autumn tests of 2017 where Scotland really came into their own – recording a resounding win over Australia and narrowly missing out on a historic victory over the All-Blacks. He also appeared at the Six Nations this year, in a tournament which saw Scotland defeat old rivals England for the first time in ten years.

However, it is undoubtedly in sevens rugby where Jones really thrives. Having made his first appearance on the international scene in 2009, he went on to be selected for the 2010 Commonwealth Games squad in Delhi. From there, he reached the Glasgow Games in 2014 and the 2015/16 World Series in Dubai and South Africa, where he was awarded the DHL Impact Player of the Tournament award.

Overall, Jones has played in 110 matches and scored 275 points in the World Series, on top of his appearances over three Commonwealth Games – making him somewhat of a veteran on the sevens scene at this point.

Talking on his experience at the Gold Coast Games this year, Jones said: “The Commonwealth Games overall was a brilliant experience. We as a rugby sevens team are very lucky to be part of a wider Team Scotland and that’s a unique experience in itself and amazing to see other members of Team Scotland be successful and win medals. In terms of the rugby tournament itself we were disappointed with the overall result as a squad.”

Scotland started the tournament well, recording resounding 27-0 and 41-0 wins over Papua New Guinea and Malaysia respectively in day one, but were unfortunately denied a medal place by reigning champions South Africa in a 26-5 defeat. Jones delivered his verdict on the loss, but mentioned how denying Wales a win in day two was something of a consolation to the squad.

“The match versus South Africa was effectively a quarter-final, and ultimately we didn’t deliver the right performance in that game,” Jones said. “South Africa are a very good team and we knew we had to be at our best to beat them. We started the game well but came unstuck in a couple of key moments. It was pleasing to follow that up on day two though, by beating Wales who were very close to a semi-final themselves.”

Talking of Scotland at this point in time though, conversation almost always comes back to just how well the team had been performing in the autumn tests, and their defeat of England in the Six Nations. I asked Jones just how it felt to be part of a squad that is not only doing so well, but is also so popular amongst rugby fans right now.

“I think you can see a massive difference in attitudes and popularity towards Scottish Rugby in the past few years. I think this is obviously down to the success of both the club teams but also the national teams including age-grade sides and sevens for example. Not only this, but I think the way the national team are aspiring to play the game plays a big part – Gregor Townsend wants Scotland to play the fastest rugby in the world.”

While a talented rugby player himself, Jones faces stiff competition from equally impressive players out on the wing for the national side, in the likes of Sean Maitland, Blair Kinghorn and Byron McGuigan. I asked if competition for so few places was healthy in this instance.

“I think competition for places at both club and international level is why Scottish rugby has seen a big improvement in success on the field. It helps to drive better performance from the whole squad. Players know that if they don’t perform well, there is always someone else ready to take their place and grab an opportunity.”

Being a regular for both the Scottish 15s international side and the sevens squad means Jones has to switch constantly between the two brands of rugby, and I wanted to know if the transition between these was difficult to do in such a tight turnaround time.

“The transition can be tricky,” Jones said. “But the coaches, both rugby and strength and conditioning help to make it a lot easier. Everything we do in terms of training volume is tracked and compared. The intensity we train at in Glasgow prepared us well for the transition into sevens over the past few weeks.

“That’s fitness wise though – in terms of the actual game, the skills are exactly the same. There are bits and pieces of shape and organisation that are slightly different but the guys managed to get up to speed pretty quickly – playing prop over at the Commonwealth Games, I had a crash course in scrummaging and lineout lifting!”

And finally, to wrap it up, just what was the Borderer focusing on next in his career? Jones remained professional, positive and determined – focusing on his remaining time at Glasgow.

“At the moment I have another year on my contract at Glasgow. Right now I am trying to take the most out of every game, and appreciating my time on the pitch. I want to play as much as possible and contribute to a successful team. I want to win the Pro14 with Glasgow this year, and of course, keep pushing for international selection!”

It’s been an interesting Commonwealth Games, and one of the most memorable seasons in recent years for Scottish international rugby, and by the sounds of the answers, it’s been an experience to remember for ‘Jonesy’ in the midst of it all. Being an experienced and talented player out on the field, it’s a certainty that we will be seeing Lee Jones out on the sevens scene again sooner rather than later.

 

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