No matter how your season is going it is nice to be recognised for your achievements, Even if you didn’t know you were being watched. Humble Borderer Lee Jones, upon hearing of his award of Hotel Du Vin/Malmaison Player of the Month, simply afforded himself a sheepish smile.
“I’m pretty pleased. I didn’t know they were running the award, to be fair, so when it came up in our team meeting I was genuinely shocked!
“It has been a mixed bag for the first part of the season, but I’ve personally felt it has been going OK.”
Here Jones is selling himself short on two counts. Edinburgh’s mixed bag has seen them win two out of six league games, both of them at Murrayfield and they have lost to Aironi during this spell. There have been lapses in all of their games- neither of the two wins against Connacht and Munster could be called the complete performance –and the squad know they have to rebound after a heavy loss against the Scarlets last time out and a few weeks of reassessing. Jones has been leading the fight back.
Reassessment has in fact led to Jones getting this award as his coaches have recognised his growing talent and tenacious work rate. Michael Bradley said in a statement that “His [Lee’s] performances lifted the team on a number of occasions. Some of the highlights would be his defensive work, particularly a covering tackle against Connacht, as well as superb line breaks in the match against Aironi and in our home win over Munster [29-14].”
In the same statement Jones said “I’ve really enjoyed the start of this season with the highlight being our home win over Munster (29-14) and, as an individual, my try against Scarlets – receiving a ball from a clearance kick presents a good opportunity for a winger so I was really pleased to finish that one.”
Alone in the Malmaison Hotel, though, a modest Jones conceded that “there are always loads of things to work on. I have had a few personal highlights and I have a few work-ons.
“Before every game I just try to nail the basics for a winger –your high ball, keeping hold of possession –and then if anything else comes it is on top of that. First and foremost I need to be doing my job. It is great to have the Internationals back, but I am now confident I can keep my place.”
It is safe to say that the former scrum-half from Selkirk has solidified his place. Signed off the back of some tidy 7s performances last year he took to professional rugby well, avoiding injury and proving himself reliable. In the summer he signed an extension which will take him to 2013 and he has begun the season in scintillating form, leading the way even as Edinburgh have struggled.
Now the big boys return as Scotland stars are reintroduced into the RaboDirect Pro12.
“Them [the returning Internationals] coming back in will lift the squad,” the winger asserts. “They’re good players, having played for Scotland in the World Cup, and hopefully that will help the young guys who have been playing for Edinburgh while they’ve been away. I include myself in that. I think they will have a positive effect.”
I ask him if there will be any issues with the Scotland boys handling the transition from Scotland’s style to the shape Edinburgh have been wrestling with. He turns his head ever so slightly to look at me and says, “They’ll fit in well.
“This week has seen us revisiting what we’ve done early season, so looking at our shape and our principles, the calls in attack and defence. They know what they are doing,” he reiterates. “It’s pretty standard stuff, but it’s about nailing on calls and patterns.”
Is that really what the issue has been? Without shifting he continues, “The minor details have been the problem. It’s inconsistency.
“One week we will see us defend really well for long periods, and then the week after we might let something slip. It’s just getting some consistency. The International players will push that, and they are experienced. We’ve shown we can do it. We just need to nail it every time.”
Jones isn’t playing, but he knows Edinburgh face a challenge this Friday. Leinster are also welcoming back their Internationals (a huge number of 14 players left for New Zealand) and have been doing well in the meantime, winning their last three games since losing to Glasgow 23-19. A change of pace may hinder the Irish, though, and they will not be playing in front of 15,000 odd like they do at home. Leinster have not won at Murrayfield since 2009 and are yet to experience Edinburgh’s new pitch-side set-up.
On this prospect Jones sits upright and delivers his appraisal. “It will be great for us to play against some of the guys they’ve got, particularly in the back-line. It will be interesting to see how the competition moves forward with all the Internationals back. I’m looking forward to it.”
And with that Lee Jones wandered out of the Hotel, into the sunshine on Leith. As he got his picture taken he even cracked a smile. He is a young player growing in confidence and performing well for an underperforming side. He certainly looks comfortable.
I almost heckle him as he is getting snapped. I relent. He may just have to get used to this sort of attention and praise. Especially since, in a few months time, his naked torso may well be getting ogled by Edinburgh’s female fans. “I’ve put on 1mm of fat since last week’s calendar shoot!” he told me.
1 measly mm? They’re going to eat him alive….
Here’s the Edinburgh Rugby team to play Leinster at Murrayfield Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 7.35pm, also on BBCAlba)
15 Chris Paterson
14 Simon Webster
13 Nick de Luca
12 Matt Scott
11 Tim Visser
10 Harry Leonard
9 Greig Laidlaw
1 Allan Jacobsen
2 Ross Ford
3 Geoff Cross
4 Esteban Lozada
5 Steve Turnbull
6 Dave Denton
7 Roddy Grant
8 Stuart McInally
16 Steven Lawrie
17 Kyle Traynor
18 Lewis Niven
19 Grant Gilchrist
20 Netani Talei
21 Mike Blair
22 Jim Thompson
23 Tom Brown