Scotland winger Lee Jones has saluted the battling spirit of Edinburgh team-mate Nick De Luca in resurrecting his international rugby prospects.
Substitute De Luca was a key figure in Scotland’s latest performance, which was sharing a try-count with World Cup finalists France before eventually going down 23-17 at Murrayfield in the latest round of the RBS Six Nations Championship.
A fortnight earlier, though, De Luca’s fortunes were at a low ebb, having borne the brunt of Scotland’s defeat in Wales when a sin-binning left the team short-handed for as critical spell. De Luca wasn’t the only Scot to see a yellow card but during his absence a 10-3 home lead was extended to 20-6. Soon after, De Luca withdrew from Twitter social networking after receiving abuse from “fans”.
However, Jones, below, was quick to confirm impressions that it was a determined De Luca who reported for substitute duty, having lost his place in the starting line-up.
When called upon for his 32nd cap after Rory Lamont suffered a broken leg on half an hour, De Luca responded with verve in attack and tenacity in the tackle to leave Jones admitting he benefited from the presence at centre of a club-mate. “Nick did well when he came on. He had a hard time after the Welsh game but he did well against France.
“He was making half-breaks and he was making off-loads.
“As a winger that was good for me. I had never played with Sean [Lamont] at outside centre and it didn’t change the game with Nick coming on.
“But I know how he plays the game and that helps me.”
Setting aside the blitz defence that was a De Luca trademark, the one-time Edinburgh Accies and Heriot’s three- quarter got back on his feet after a crucial tackle to play a part in the lead up to Jones’ first Test try recalled today by the proud scorer.
“Credit John Barclay for turning the ball over and as soon as he got ball away I thought, ‘we need to score from this’. Nick did well to draw his marker.
“When Richie Vernon came on [less than five minutes earlier] he brought a bit of pace and I thought he could maybe score himself. But he managed to slip the ball to me in the corner and we managed to score.
“It was pretty special to get a first international try and hopefully I’ll get the chance to score again for Scotland.”
The tries by Stuart Hogg and Jones were the first by Scotland at Murrayfield in a Six Nations match other – than against Italy – since Max Evans crossed against Wales in 2009.
“Scoring tries was the main focus going into this championship with people asking ‘why are Scotland not scoring tries?” said Jones. “We should have had two in Wales [Stuart Hogg had a touchdown disallowed in a decision which the referee later apologised for] and that’s two this time. Hopefully that is the monkey off our backs.”
Nobody did more to end the drought than Jones, who was instrumental in creating the scoring opportunity which Hogg seized.
“I knew I had got to the last defender and it was the right option to pass but Stuart still did well to race in from there.
“Hoggy was great going forward and great in the air. He’s a good player all right, and it was a really good feeling in the first 10-20 minutes when we were pushing the pace.
“Unfortunately we never closed out the last ten minutes of the first half the way we would have wanted, allowing France a couple of penalties on either side of the interval.”
At least Scotland had proved they could go toe-to-toe with a French side liberally sprinkled with stars from Toulouse, whom Jones can expect to come up against in Edinburgh colours in a home Heineken European Cup quarter-final on Saturday, April 7. In fact, there were six Toulousains at Murrayfield, with eight Edinburgh players in the Scots starting line-up.
“I learned a lot about the quality of the opposition Edinburgh will be facing in the quarter final and I’ll look to take that forward,” added three-times capped Jones, who was celebrated in unusual fashion in Sunday’s match programme.
Under the headline “Juicy Jones”, the man who has scored five tries for Edinburgh this season has won a perhaps unique accolade in Scottish rugby history – from the butcher’s shop in his home of Selkirk who once employed him as a delivery boy which have named a sausage after him. “I’m honoured to have the sausage named after me – it’s pretty cool!” said Jones in what must be the rugby quote of this or any other season!