Thursday, 16 August 2007

Rugby World Cup-Michael Jones



Was Michael Jones the greatest ever loose forward to play in the Rugby World Cup (RWC)?
Probably. This RWC may see him emerge as the coach of the future. Why do I say this with confidence? In 1989 I saw that crunching tackle that wrecked his knee against Argentina after which he had to take over half a year off to recover. I was working in Auckland at that stage as Editor of the New Zealand Adventure magazine. Michael was told to keep fit, but for some months to keep weight off his knee. I was doing volunteer work with the Waiparera Maori Trust Board at that time and we started a Waka Ama club, (an outrigger canoe club}. Michael joined the club to keep fit and enjoy an upper body sport TO rest his knee. We got close as we practiced most mornings. They elected me a sort of skipper, and I had to say a Karakia (prayer in Maori) every morning before we got on the water and I remember forgetting one morning. "Where is the Karakia, Bob ?", said Michael. I said the prayer for protection. Michael took his sport and spiritual life seriously. We canoed a lot together through the winter and spring, once helping rescure him and his team after a capsize in an open sea event. It was winter and he was frozen to the bone, but he smiled. I have a feeling that England or South Africa will see that chilling Michael Jones smile, as the win flashes on the board.

Today's report

Samoan coach and legendary All Black flank Michael Jones has fired the first verbal salvo in the lead-up to his team's opening match of the World Cup - against South Africa in Paris on September 9.

Jones said he is under no illusions about the task in front of them, when they come up against the mighty Springboks.

However, they are confident they can knock over at least one of the big guns in their pool matches and secure themselves a spot in the play-offs.

They will also face England, in Nantes on September 22, and a potentially tricky match against fellow Pacific Island nation Tonga, with the United States the only likely easy win.

If Samoa wants to progress beyond the pool stages, they can afford only one loss.

Victory over either the Boks or English will see them repeat their giant-killing feats of making the quarter-finals in 1991 and 1995.

"I've always maintained that we're not going there to make up the numbers," Jones said if his team's encounters with South Africa and England.

"From my perspective as coach, we have got a lot of talent in the team and those players have to put their bodies on the line for their country.

"We may not possess the resources and money top teams like England and South Africa have, but we've got a team of players who are ready to die for their country."

Jones was assistant coach to John Boe during the 2003 World Cup, when Samoa nearly upset eventual champions England, leading well into the second half before a late onslaught saw them succumb 35-22.

The team also achieved a famous 16-13 win against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1991 to make the quarter-finals.

Samoa has been the strongest Pacific islands team for the past four years and have proved more consistent than local rivals Fiji and Tonga.

In this year's Pacific Nations Cup, the Samoans predictably lost to the Junior All Blacks and Australia A despite good performances, beat Fiji and Japan in low scoring games and thrashed Tonga.

"A lot of work has gone into our preparations for the World Cup," Jones said.

"The team we've got is a result of years of hard work, monitoring players all over the world."

6 comments:

John said...

I was lucky enough to encounter Michael Jones numerous times during my time as a sports journalist. As a player he was artistry in motion and as you've outlined he was a prince off the field as well.

I was covering the All Black tour of South Africa in 1992 and the team was playing Central Unions in a scruffy dustbowl of a town called Witbank. Following the match and having done my various interviews and filed back to New Zealand, I meandered out into the now empty stadium, bar for a gaggle of laughing, yelling black kids down one end. I investigated further saw amidst the melee of youngsters was Michael Jones conducting an impromptu rugby clinic.

Jones, who hadn't played that day had a look of real joy on his face as the kids relished getting a master class in the game from a true great. In the end, as darkness fell, a gruff Laurie Mains (was he ever anything else?!) barked out from under the main stand for his star flanker to get moving as the team was boarding the bus. Jones left somewhat reluctantly, and the kids gave him a boisterous send-off thanking him profusely. This was just one example of many I witnessed of Jones' kind heartedness and generosity. He was a class act.

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