The news that Wales international Adam Jones was to bring the curtain down on a glittering career last month may not have exactly been a surprise, but it undoubtedly leaves a huge void that will take some filling. Jones amassed 95 caps for his country, and added a further five with the British & Irish Lions to cement himself as one of the best prop forwards of his generation. The 33-year-old enjoyed a hugely successful stint with the Welsh side notching up three Grand Slams and another solitary Six Nations title following his debut in 2003, and while some have predicted this announcement for a while now, it does signal the end of an era for Welsh rugby.
It is clear that Jones himself had made up his mind long before the announcement was made, not least given his omission from the Wales squad for the Autumn internationals. However, the timing might seem a little strange given Warren Gatland’s lack of prop forward options. Llanelli Scarlets’ duo of Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones are injury doubts ahead of their Six Nations campaign leaving some to argue that Jones would have been first in line for a recall.
In many ways it’s a shame that the former Ospreys forward did not have the opportunity to go out on his own terms. Substituted just half an hour into a 38-16 defeat to South Africa last summer was an ignominious ending for a player who rightly so earned such high praise throughout his career, and again after his retirement was made public. While he may have fallen just short of the 100 cap mark, the temptation of one last Six Nations campaign and a possible World Cup this September may have left him in two minds as to whether to call it quits or not. It was clear though that Jones did not figure in the Welsh Rugby Union’s long term plans.
As a member of the hugely successful 2005, 2008 and 2012 Grand Slam winning sides, Jones was a monster in the scrum underlining his status as one of the best prop forwards in the Northern Hemisphere, and perhaps the world. The Welshman might be easily recognised for his shaggy appearance and sizeable head of hair, but it’s on the field where he will be best remembered, earning further accolades at domestic level as part of the dominant Ospreys side of the mid-noughties as well as on the bigger stage. His starring role in the victorious 2013 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia was plain to see, spearheading a formidable pack that laid the foundations for a famous tour win that will live long in the memory.
In many respects that was his crowning moment. There will be people out there who will recall the uncertainty regarding his Test future over the last year and the noticeable decline in his performances, but one can hardly question Gatland’s decision to blood younger talent as he prepares to take Wales forward in the coming years.
The Welsh national side have lost some noticeable pieces over the last four or five years who played crucial roles in their success of the last decade, not least in the form of Shane Williams, Stephen Jones and now Jones himself.
Yet, as clichéd as it sounds, all good things must come to an end. It’s not all doom and gloom for Jones however, he still intends to prolong his club career as long as possible, though it should be said his future with Cardiff Blues is far from certain with his one-year contract up this summer.
Whether the decision to leave him out of the squad prompted the announcement, or accelerated it is debatable. Whether or not in the short term, Wales will miss his presence and experience within the scrum in a crucial year remains to be seen, but his legacy is already secure.
Jones, a quiet and unassuming type who isn’t one for the spotlight, might not be one of the first names that come to mind when one considers the greats of British rugby. Of course, he has several compatriots whose names might spring up first, and former Lions teammate Jonny Wilkinson who recently retired himself garnered more attention. Jones might be a greater loss to the Welsh national side in the short term and the tight-head position with which he made his own during eleven years at the pinnacle of the game will take some filling.
As alluded to earlier, Jones won’t be disappearing completely, and he recently revealed that he intends to move into coaching when he retires from club rugby.
A return to the Welsh set-up in that capacity might just be his next long term goal.