Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sporting Heroes : Michael Jones

Michael Jones - New Zealand rugby player

The New Zealand rugby team of the late 1980s were the most dominating side I've ever seen - they revolutionized rugby, had world class players from 1 to 15 and could demolish any opposition on any given day. From Gallagher at fullback, through Kirwan on the wing and "Buck" Shelford at number 8 they were world class and I loved watching them play. But my favorite player in that outstanding side was Michael Jones, the openside flanker.

Nicknamed the "iceman" because of his cool and confident play (also for the number of icepacks he needed for injuries) he scored the first try in the inaugural world cup in 1987 which New Zealand went on to win (their only world cup title to date). Two serious knee injuries and a broken jaw threatened to curtail his career, but Jones was still an All Black in 1998. Skill, pace, devestating tackling and a superb rugby brain, Jones could probably have played International level in the backs as well. Though the knee injuries robbed him of some of the searing pace of the early part of his career (he switched from openside to blindside), he was still an outstanding flanker until his retirement in 1999.

Off the field he was a softly spoken, shy, university educated Samoan New Zealander who is still hugely respected throughout the rugby world. One of the interesting aspects to Michael Jones was the strength of his religious beliefs. He had promised his father on his deathbed that he would never play rugby on a Sunday, and kept to this promise throughout his career. Because of this, he missed 3 games in the 1991 world cup (including the semi final where they lost to eventual champions Australia) and was omitted from the 1995 world cup squad (as both the quarter and semi finals were on a Sunday). It is interesting to speculate whether New Zealand would have won those tournaments had Jones been available.

My favorite Michael Jones story concerns a reporter who asked him how a Christian such as himself could be such an uncompromising tackler on the field. His reply was a wry quote from the bible - "it is better to give than to receive".

Michael Jones - outstanding rugby player, rugby ambassador and gentleman.

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