Saturday, 22 September 2007

Michael Jones still the best

I have written at least twice about Michael Jones being an outstanding rugby player, a fine human being and a role model for young and old alike. He is currently coach of the Samoan rugby team which played gallantly against England last night.

I came across this article this morning. Brilliantly written Tony Smith.

Was fellow All Blacks flanker and now Samoan coach Michael Jones a better player than Richie McCaw is?

When the greatest player in rugby union history says the game is getting too soft it's time for the powers-that-be to set down the gin tumblers and take notice.
Michael Jones, the All Blacks' all-time best and now Samoa coach, says if the trend towards sanitising the sport continues, he'll encourage his son to play rugby league.
Jones the Christian who once quipped that he tackled so hard because he had been taught that it was "better to give than to receive" says he would probably consider playing league too if he was still pulling on a pair of boots now.
The Iceman's utterance on the eve of the all-important Samoa-England World Cup clash was seized upon by genuflecting English pressmen with all the reverence of an epistle from the Archbishop of Canterbury's lips.
And quite right too. Jones is revered by rugby people throughout the world.
Which begs the question why is he not accorded the status he deserves in his own land?
New Zealanders still cling to the myth that Colin Meads is our greatest All Black. Pinetree was a true totem, a legend when the All Blacks pack was feared throughout the world. No one wishes to belittle his feat of 55 tests across 14 seasons. His longevity, his toughness, and his athletic ability with the ball curled up in that massive mitt, was a sight to behold.
But nostalgia is a powerful drug. Once it has you hooked, it's desperately difficult to kick.
It is now 20 years since the 1987 All Blacks revolutionised rugby on their way to winning the inaugural world cup. Footage of that first tournament has been aired more often this month than a politician's dirty linen. The re-runs show Michael Jones at his mercurial best before the tragic knee injury which reduced him from superhuman to the ranks of mere mortal.
Richie McCaw is a modern-day marvel on the openside flank and better at the breakdown than Jones. But for sheer skill, pace, eye for a gap and thunderous tackling, no one before or since comes within cooee of the softly-spoken West Aucklander.
Jones, who also played 55 tests spread across 12 seasons, was so good he could have played for the All Blacks at second five-eighths or centre.
Even Will Carling, the ex-England captain and centre acknowledged as much in rating Jones as No2 behind 1970s Welsh halfback Gareth Edwards in his best 50 rugby players of all-time in a recent Daily Telegraph newspaper promotion.
Meads was 14th behind Jonah Lomu (4th) and Zinzan Brooke (9th) but ahead of Sean Fitzpatrick (18th), Buck Shelford (22nd), Dan Carter (23rd) and McCaw (27th).
While Meads' status in many Kiwis' eyes is clearly based on his playing feats, he has also been venerated for the image he projects as a rugged rural man of the land, the "Man Alone" laconic cocky with a fence post balanced on one shoulder and a sheep slung over the other, the type of bloke you'd like to have a beer with.
By contrast, Jones is a deeply religious, abstemious, university-educated Samoan New Zealander from suburban West Auckland, a true Pacific community leader, a representative of the new New Zealand. His celebrity has been confined to the sports pages. There has never been a whiff of controversy around his career.
Kiwis also like Meads because he has been a bit of a character. The King Country lock was sent off against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1967 and was involved in a couple of other unsavoury incidents in internationals. He was a New Zealand Rugby Union councillor when he unwisely travelled as manager of the rebel Cavaliers tour to South Africa in 1986 in defiance of a High Court ban. Yet it says much for Meads' mana and rugby's redemptive qualities that he was welcomed back into the fold after a brief penance and went on to manage the All Blacks at the 1995 world cup.
Meads has also made a significant contribution off the football field in his King Country region, in particular through his championing of the IHC fundraising cause.
Yet in terms of rugby role models there is none better than Michael Niko Jones, who has done much to advance the Pacific New Zealanders' cause.
Throughout his long career he stuck steadfastly to his stance of never playing on Sundays. Whether it was for Waitemata or the All Blacks, he remained true to his principles.
His beliefs were universally respected but came at some cost. Jones was unable to play in the 1991 Rugby World Cup final against Australia in Dublin. Would the Wallabies have won had he been in the No7 jersey instead of Mark Carter?
He was also omitted from the 1995 world cup squad because several Sunday matches were scheduled for the South African tournament. Would the All Blacks have lost to South Africa in the final staged on a Saturday, incidentally with Jones at No6 in the backrow beside Zinzan Brooke and Josh Kronfeld?
Meads deserves respect for his durability and his ability to play through the pain barrier. Who can forget his battle to play with a broken arm in South Africa in 1970?
Jones's genius was unprecedented before his knee collapsed at ruck against Argentina at Athletic Park in 1989. It was the kind of injury which would have ended the career of a less committed player.
Yet Jones sought the best surgeon he could find and proved a model patient through a painstaking rehab.
He was back on the All Blacks' flank 18 months later and reinvented himself from the world's best openside to the top blindside flanker of the early 1990s.
Yes, Michael Jones is still the best rugby player New Zealand has seen and it is no surprise to see his views on the sport treated with the solemnity of the Sermon on the Mount.

By TONY SMITH in Edinburgh - Fairfax Media Sunday, 23 September 2007


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