New Scotland winger Lee Jones today revealed how he turned to a Grand Slam maestro for advice as the prospect of a Scotland debut in Saturday’s RBS Six Nations opener against England at Murrayfield loomed large.
Jones was less than two years old when Iwan Tukalo, pictured below, was strutting his stuff out of the same Selkirk club in the last Scotland Grand Slam winning team of 1990.
But he grew up fully aware of just how highly regarded ‘Tuks’ was in terms of finishing power – 15 tries from 37 caps – and he has employed the Selkirk connection to advantage in preparing for a step up. “I’ve been in contact with Iwan recently,” said Jones. “He has been good with advice and it is really good to have talked with someone who has been there before.
“Iwan told me his feelings on the game, how I can get into a game as much as possible and subtleties like that. He also talked about his first experience of entering the Scotland squad so as to ready me for what to expect should the chance come along.”
Now that the moment has arrived there is no doubt that Jones’ strike rate in the Heineken European Cup as Edinburgh marched towards a quarter-final place did much to persuade national coach Andy Robinson to call up a player who follows in the bootstuds of another Selkirk wing great, Ronnie Cowan, a British Lion.
Tries against London Irish home and away as well as one during the visit to Cardiff enabled Jones to take his tally in the competition to four and there was quite a contrast between the first and last of those.
To get off the mark Jones crossed in the win over Castres played behind closed doors on safety grounds last season when snow could not be cleared from the Murrayfield surroundings with the Frenchmen having already travelled.
Moving up to date it was Jones who notched the bonus point counter against London Irish ten days ago that booked Edinburgh’s place in the knockout stages – a possible million euro touchdown considering half that sum is already due them for qualifying with the prospect of a similar payout if Toulouse can now be beaten.
“It was definitely up there as the biggest try of my career,” said Jones at the time and possibly not even he knew how high the stakes were with coach Robinson taking particular note.
“Scoring three ties in the Heineken Cup probably added something to my game. It always catches the eye to be scoring tries and it is always good to finish,” added Jones. “I’ve staked my claim by playing consistently for Edinburgh especially in Heineken Cup matches and being able to perform against good opposition has put me in this position.”
Overall this season Jones has five tries and it was the first of them – a superb solo effort away to Llanelli Scarlets in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League – that probably signalled his emergence as a genuine contenders to top honours.
Back then the Evening News reported on October 20: “At a time when the national side is crying out for such clinical finishing skills Jones is entitled to feel optimistic about what lies ahead for him.
“As Jones weaved in and out of the Scarlets defence for what could well end up a contender for try of the season it was easy to see why the Scottish Rugby Union awarded a two-year contract extension last March. Jones may appear relatively slightly built but he’s a few inches taller and 6kg heavier than Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams and at A international level he has already shown an eye for a gap.”
The modest Jones has always seemed ill-at-ease fielding praise but admits that having another proven finisher on the other Edinburgh wing in Dutchman Tim Visser has been a help in terms of provoking a bit of honest competition for the benefit of the team. “There is always a target. Tim has scored a few as well and as a wing you want to be scoring tries. That keeps me going.”
Soon after this Six Nations series ends Visser will be eligible for Scotland on residency conjuring up the notion of a twin Edinburgh wing threat at international level but, meantime, Jones is glad to have five club-mates in the starting line-up plus another three on the bench. Of these Nick De Luca could be the most influential being positioned right alongside at outside centre.
“It will be good to go out on the pitch beside Nick.
“He is a good communicator always chatting things through with me and all the other guys I know I can rely on to steady any nerves.
“It will be a different game from anything I have previously experienced and, really, I have not had any chance to reflect on selection as the past two weeks, with an important Heineken Cup game followed by a Scotland camp, has ensured it has just been one thing after another.
“But I’ll just try go keep as close as possible to my normal routine.”
Mentor Tukalo, for sure, would approve of that approach.