Huw Jones: From gap year to rugby career
Turn the clock back 12 months or so and Huw Jones was lifting the Currie Cup with his Western Province teammates, having scored a brace of tries and been voted Man of the Match. Within weeks he was on the other side of the globe, putting in a series of try-scoring performances for Scotland in the Autumn Tests against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. The Edinburgh-born centre had made his debut for Scotland off the bench against Japan the previous summer, but continued playing his club rugby in South Africa before signing with Glasgow Warriors for the 2017/18 season.
It was a gap year in South Africa in 2012 that sparked Jones’ rugby career, giving him a solid grounding in how the game is played in the southern hemisphere.
“I knew I wanted to take a gap year because I wasn’t really interested in university,” he said. “I got a job at Bishop’s school in Cape Town where we would help out the teachers during the day with any tasks and coach sport in the afternoon.”
Before long Jones was introduced to False Bay rugby club, which he describes as being a similar standard to the Premiership in Scotland. When the Head Coach of that club secured a new position at the University of Cape Town (UCT), he encouraged Jones to apply for a place at the university and a chance to play for its rugby team. His application was successful and Jones’ gap year soon turned into an extended stay.
“In South Africa they put a lot of emphasis on university rugby and there’s a competition that starts in February called the Varsity Cup,” he said. “In 2014 we (UCT) won the competition and it was a big step in my career. If we hadn’t won that, I don’t know if I’d have been offered a professional contract. It was a crazy game – we came back from 18 points down or something like that with five minutes to go and won five minutes after the clock had gone past 80. It got people talking and I got a professional contract with Western Province off the back of it.”
Playing rugby in South Africa gave Jones the chance to see how passionate fans there are about the game. He says that the Springboks have had a tough couple of years with different coaches and other factors leading to a drop in form, but while the fans would no doubt have been frustrated he thinks they will be elated with recent successes including a victory over the All Blacks.
“Rugby is the number one sport in South Africa, Everyone loves it there.The hype around the Springboks is amazing. Grassroots rugby as well, they can get up to 15,000 or 20,000 people at a schoolboy game because the country is rugby-mad.”
Jones went on to get the chance to participate in the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup tournaments with Western Province, before injuries to some of the club’s centres also gave him the chance to get called up for the Stormers to take part in Super Rugby. Half-way through 2016 he got a call “out of the blue” from the Scotland management.
“I was at training and I got a call from my agent first and then I got a call from Vern (Cotter) about five minutes later,” he said. “I was a late call up for the Japan tour and I think I played 20 minutes in the last game; I didn’t really do much but it was a good experience then I went back to Cape Town. I have to say I got a lot more game time for the Stormers after that tour - I didn’t think much had changed in my game over the two weeks but they said that I came back with a lot more confidence.”