News today that young Welsh wonderprop Samson Lee has failed to recover from concussion following the knock he took in last Friday’s Six Nations opener against England. As such, he will be missing from the starting line-up v Scotland and, in one fell swoop, the whole saga of whether Adam Jones should have been selected in the initial squad has resurfaced. For those who have been living under a Welsh crag since Christmas, the story so far goes like this: on Saturday 24 January, the 95-capped prop announced his departure from the red shirt and sparked many a grown man (including a few of us here at Red Rugby Towers™) to shed a reminiscent tear. His reason? Following his omission from the squad for the 2014 Autumn Internationals, he vowed to retire if he did not make the cut for the following Six Nations tournament. This week, Red Rugby asks whether cutting the man they call ‘Bomb’ was the right call and could he ever (should he ever) make a return to the international scene?
Welsh fans…try and think back to before this year’s Six Nations squad announcement? Are you there? Right. Now, we want to ask you two questions: before the announcement, would you have been surprised if Adam didn’t make the squad. No? Neither would we have been. You see, since that first test in South Africa last summer when Jones was unceremoniously hauled off just after 30 minutes (left) it’s been obvious that the days of the hair bear in the red of Wales were coming to an end. The saddest thing is it’s not really his fault either: a change in the scrummaging laws has blunted the armoury of Jones who was a master of winning the ‘hit’. But here’s the other question we’d ask you? Would you have expected Aaron Jarvis of the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues’ Scott Andrews to be ahead of him in the international pecking order? Again, for us it’s a resounding no. Jarvis is a good prop; the argument is he’s in the ascendency and Adam’s stock is going the other way. But Andrews? It’s hard to justify that call given that Jones is keeping him out of the Blues team. With Rhodri Jones (Scarlets) and emerging prop Tom Francis (Exeter Chiefs) both injured and unavailable for selection, the decision to overlook someone as experienced as Adam Jones looked bizarre back then. Now, when the law of sod has well and truly struck with Samson’s injury, Gatland and Co’s selections look down-right daft. The Welsh scrum creaked horribly against England. Wales have just handed a big advantage to the Scots.
For twelve years, Adam Jones has been exhibiting his effervescent character and natural rugby talent on the international stage. Twelve years is a long time for any international player, but you still get the feeling that Jones had at least one more season left in him at the highest level, even if his star was beginning to fade. He certainly still had the desire to play and has stated how hard he worked to get into that Six Nations squad. But the question of whether or not Adam could have been selected in the future can only be answered by Warren Gatland and his management team. Their reasons for not picking him this time around range from ‘we’re looking to create depth in the squad’ to ‘we see Adam as more of a starter than a player who makes up the numbers’. We have some empathy for Gatland’s first point. Wales should try to avoid the situation they had for much of Adam’s international career where they were totally dependent on him being fit. But there’s the rub with Gatland’s second point. Adam Jones IS fit, whereas all pretenders to his crown are not (excluding Jarvis). So to assert that Adam should only be in the squad if he’s guaranteed to start is not only patronising to the player, it totally undermines the first argument about creating your strongest, ‘deepest’ squad possible at any one time. With players injured, is it not better to keep an experienced player like Jones in camp, perhaps even to the World Cup where his experience will be invaluable?
A glorious swansong?
So could Adam Jones come out of retirement as quickly as he went into it? How about a glorious swansong at the Rugby World Cup in England? Perhaps a few starring cameos where he helps his country get over the line in those crucial Pool A games? Or a quarter-final? A semi-final? The final itself? Could he yet see out his career at the very top of the game as Warburton lifts the Webb Ellis? Such an ending would be fitting given the fantastic career he’s had, no? It’s a nice thought…but unlikely to happen. The player himself has said ‘that’s that’; he’s definitely staying retired. Adam Jones is a proud rugby player and proud man. He’s stated that the emotional and physical effort he’s gone through to try in get back in that Wales side has proved to be too much for him and his family. You’d suspect (and have to respect) that this is certainly ‘it’ for Adam Jones. Equally proud a man is Warren Gatland who, having made the call, will surely now not persuade the player to come out of retirement. He’s made his bed. Wales fans will be hoping that, given the injuries to several tighthead props, that pride can give way if it needs to, and if Adam Jones can still do a job for Wales, he will be given the opportunity to do it. Those fans will find some comfort in the opinion of ex-international Tom Shanklin who reckons we haven’t seen the last of him yet.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months one thing is certain: Adam Jones is a legendary rugby player. Throughout his career, there have been plenty of pundits eager to take a swipe over his perceived lack of fitness and/or inability to stay the course of an 80-minute game. Adam is the first to admit that before Warren Gatland’s arrival as Head Coach he did have an issue here, but it’s no coincidence that the fortunes of the Welsh team turned around at the same time that the prop found his fitness and endurance. Since 2008, Wales have won three Six Nations titles (two of them Grand Slams) and reached a World Cup semi-final. Jones can add another Grand Slam winner’s medal to that collection (from 2005 when he was a supposed ‘fatty’) as well as five test caps for the British and Irish Lions, including the successful tour to Australia in 2012. As an Osprey he won four Celtic League (Magners/Pro12) titles and an Anglo-Welsh Cup. All this makes Adam Jones one of the most decorated Welsh players of all time. He is a legend. End of. But, as the picture above shows, there’s something else about Adam that elevates him above the status of humble rugby player: he’s a cult figure. It’s the hair, the bulging eyes, the socialising with the Mayor of London and the attempted drop goals. A fine rugby player he may be but he’s also a great character and that’s why he’ll go down in history as one of the best. If the rugby world has seen the last of Adam Jones in the red of Wales then he definitely won’t be forgotten.
Yet could he, should he, will he…