Glasgow Warriors head coach Danny Wilson will take whatever little support he can grab at the moment, with a tight budget and extended international breaks placing immense pressure on his team, and the return of winger Lee Jones after 22 painful, injury-plagued months will have felt like an early Christmas present.
Jones made an incredible return two weeks ago – just their second success of the season – with a standout display in the Warriors’ away win over Cardiff Blues, and in many respects it will feel like Wilson has signed a new signing at no extra cost.
For Jones, it’s like he’s come into the light from a long dark tunnel. He admits that he wondered if he will ever play again as recently as September, and now he is eager to make the most of the time he has left.
“Over the course of time, I think I’ve had five different injuries,” he says. First of all, I had a knee injury, followed by four soft tissue injuries, two hamstrings and two calves, all separate hamstrings and calves on both legs, so I had the whole building.
All of them may have been linked, but all of them were essentially separate injuries. It’s just been one thing after another.
“He doesn’t hesitate when asked if he thinks he’s going to have to hang up his boots. “If I’m honest, 100 percent,” he said. “Particularly after the last two injuries. During the suspension, I was fit for a bit, then I returned and had another minor injury, so it was a matter of getting it out of the way and getting fit again. The first thought in my mind was, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play again.’ With the last injury, the hamstring [in September].
“So it was a constant battle with that side of things. But on the other side, I was always here [at Scotstoun]training and rehabbing. The goal was always to come back and play. Fortunately, I was able to do that.”
Jones managed 60 minutes against the Blues, then 70 minutes in the disappointing home loss of the Dragons last weekend, and is now one of just six players to maintain a starting spot for the European Champions Cup opener this afternoon against Exeter Chiefs, last year’s winners.
“It’s good to be back and play a few games as well,” he said. It’s been a curious couple of years. I was fit for some periods between injuries, but I was never really a choice. I was almost always fit at the wrong times.
To be honest, I’m just happy to be playing rugby again.
“It’s not really about making up for lost time. I just think in the time I haven’t played I’ve developed a real gratitude for playing, so you want to take every opportunity you get. You see that all the time with guys who are injured and don’t get a chance to put on the jersey.”
The Warriors are bolstered by the return of eight internationals, but will still have a hard time going up against the new dominant force in European rugby, which has Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner in their lineup for today’s match, as well as a host of England internationals.
“It’s probably the biggest challenge we’ll get,” Jones admitted. They’re European champions and they look really good when you look at the squad they have lined up, but how else are you going to launch your European campaign?
“That’s a chance to try. We know them pretty well because last season and a few years before that, we played them. We have nothing to lose.”
But the 32-year-old is not dreaming of throwing in the towel when his contract expires at the end of this season
He says, “I hope it’s all about the miles on the clock.” “I took those two years out, and at the end of my career, I’m just going to add them.”
Now it’s about how I can properly manage myself in training. You get away with it when you’re younger – I ignored what my body was telling me for most of my career, but now it’s about adapting. I feel like I’ve got a handle on it now, and I’ve felt amazing on the field for the last couple of weeks. Hopefully it can continue and I can get a little bit more out of the game.
I feel good, and over the last two years I’ve seen a lot of rugby and a lot of preparation, so I feel like I can get better at the game and I can get better at it.