At Glasgow Warriors, the Scottish center Huw Jones remains a mystery, as a player who offers a sharp cutting edge is limited to cameos by a team in need of a cutting edge.
The loss of the European champions can not be blamed on their selection at the outside middle, but in his Exeter outing, Jones displayed a threat and determination that Glasgow lacked.
This is the final season of Jones’ current Glasgow deal, having previously turned down Leicester to remain, but he will have to move on next summer to play in his chosen role as outside center more frequently in the first team.
It was a bit like scratching at straws to find bright sparks in the Glasgow display at Exeter, but Jones’ performance in the final minutes was one when the home defense was checked by his speed from the spot and range of angles.
This is a popular tale. He came off the bench in the away game against the Cardiff Blues to establish and score the game-winning attempt, and in the away game against the Ospreys, after scoring the first try, he was one of the most dangerous players from behind.
This season, Glasgow head coach Danny Wilson considered Jones primarily as a back-three player. At 15, he played more games than at 13 and was used at Exeter as a backup wing.
It was a similar story for Scotland, where, for the first two Six Nations matches in February, he was only in the starting eleven and played just a small part.
Before coming off the bench at the end of the Fall Nations Cup in Ireland, Jones was just a spectator, when Gloucester’s defensive-minded Chris Harris looked ready to take the full-back spot.
In Scotland’s central defense, with Stuart Hogg and Blair Kinghorn, a powerful center team with Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg in Glasgow, and the wounded Kyle Steyn, Jones could be trapped between two stools.
As coach Gregor Townsend prefers Harris’ cudgel to Jones’ rapier, a player with 10 international tries in 26 games, who has done so much to turn Scotland’s try-scoring ability, has been left out.
Jones’ defensive prowess is the most widely cited explanation for the decision, but Glasgow struggled with the 13 at Exeter, where the home side did most of their harm while away from their powerhouse.
“In terms of defensive miscues in the 13 channel, we made a couple of bad reads and also allowed them access outside a couple of times,” he said.
We’re going to sit down and take a good look at the match and go from there. Obviously, for quite a while, we’ve had Huw playing in the back three, most of the time as an outside back.
“Glenn Bryce is the one who played well at 15, so we thought he deserved the preference and Huw would cover the back three from the bench and contribute,” he said.
Clearly, he’s been gone for such a long time (with Scotland). We need to look at where we’re going to be using Huw in the future, and where we’re going to give him a chance, but we know he’s 13, too.
“As we know, Nick (Grigg) had some pretty good games. He had a few bad reads tonight, but I’m sure we’re going to fix that.
It may just be because rugby is so dominated by defense that a player like Jones has become a privilege, but this season’s proof in some games has shown that it may come at a price to overlook his offensive abilities.