'I still get the edge on game day'
August 23, 2013
Stephen Jones in full flight for Wasps but he will not be featuring for them on the field this year © PA Photos
If you were tasked with describing London Wasps to an alien, or even worse a rugby league supporter, the pace and ability of wingers Christian Wade and Tom Varndell would be high up the list. They seem to run with youthful abandon, tormenting teams and causing defence coaches sleepless nights. You can imagine they would be a coach's dream, a case of pure unadulterated talent and pace.
Wade and the rest of the Wasps backs will have a new individual calling the shots in training this term. The summer break saw a man with 104 caps for Wales swap the rigours of pre-season for the role of task master.
It is Stephen Jones' responsibility this season to look after Wasps' backs and plot their attack. A man with more experience of last-gasp kicks at top level rugby than most, but he faces a different type of pressure this term, but you would not know it when talking to him.
"I've really enjoyed it so far," Jones told ESPN. "We're a few pre-season games in and I have enjoyed having some coaching time. I've really enjoyed being able to do some skill work and work with the guys."
His transition from turf to the stands marks a new chapter for the former fly-half. The feeling of regeneration is one which is currently resonating throughout the club.
There was an aura of spring cleaning at the club earlier this week. When walking up to their training ground Twyford Avenue in west London, it was hard to ignore a piece of famous silverware sitting unattended on a wall near to their pitch. But before you had a chance to wonder what exactly the Heineken Cup was doing out in the open summer's air, along came a member of the club's staff holding the old Guinness Premiership trophy.
It was not as brutal as clearing out the old to make way for the new, but there was a wonderful symbolism to the relatively commonplace task of putting some of their gongs on show.
The days of the club contesting for Europe's top honour on a near-annual basis seem a generation ago but there are little shoots of optimism that maybe, just maybe, Wasps are on the cusp of etching a new page in their wide and varied black and yellow infused history.
Sitting around next to the pitch and in their canteen were England's Wade and Joe Launchbury, players, both young in years but with the Test experience. If they, alongside the rest of the team, find their form, then Dai Young and his coaches Brad Davis and Jones may have a side on their hands who can trouble the upper echelons of the table once again.
For Jones, who joined the team from the Scarlets in June 2012, it will be his first season away from the playing side of the game he has given so much to. Despite his new position in the club's staff, if he had it his way, he would have been out on the paddock for the team's pre-season, rather than calling the shots on the sidelines.
Calling the shots for Wales © Getty Images
"I love the game as much as ever, I just couldn't do it any more, I had problems with my back," Jones told ESPN. "I could only honour one year of my two-year contract as a player. You never know what's going to happen in life, but I loved last season and there's a great culture here. I look back on last season with fond memories, even though I was hampered with the injury.
"The opportunity to coach came around sooner than what I originally thought. To be given the opportunity here with people I knew was very fortunate. I have a huge amount of respect for Dai [Young] and I played under him when he was Welsh captain. That was great for me."
Jones admits "it's a lot easier watching the guys doing fitness than doing it", but as newly retired rugby players have said in the past, it is hard to find a substitute for the match-day experience, whether it be the nerves prior to kick-off, running out on to the field, taking the bangs and bruises and then either celebrating or picking apart a morale-sapping defeat.
But he is still clasping hold of those emotions. "I still get the edge on game day which is nice. I'm fortunate to be able to stay in the environment even though I'm on the other side of the fence. I just want to enjoy the experience."
When we met, the word 'experience' was prominent throughout but what was noticeable about Jones is that he retained all of his enthusiasm for the game and is still the same amiable individual as he was during his playing days.
He is just a couple of months into his new backroom role, but he seems to have taken to it seamlessly. His experience is now being imparted on to the younger generation - he will work with young fly-halves Joe Carlisle and Tommy Bell as well as the battle-hardened Andy Goode - and for him, it is a case of getting the most out of their "very healthy" resources.
"My philosophy is maximising what we've got and playing in an efficient style. You have to recognise the talent and ability we have. We need to maximise our resources and that's the big challenge."
For all those connected with Wasps, they will hope Jones can achieve his aim. The coaches are reluctant to put their expectations of what they want to achieve this year on the table, but you feel they will be targeting a top six finish with perhaps an additional piece of silverware to stand alongside those gongs which were benefiting from an airing on Wednesday. And if they achieve it, you feel Jones would have played an important role in getting them there.
"My perspective is you focus on getting our house in order here and being efficient, clever and organised as we can from an attacking perspective. I like what we have here, I like their attitude, I like what the club represents and who knows where that will take us. Of course we want to be better than we were last year and that's the way I see it and that's the challenge we have. We've got a lot of talent across the board. But it's all about winning, that's the reality of it."
© PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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