Six Nations Legends: Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones had a record-breaking start to his Wales career and retired as the most experienced player in the famous red jersey.

Stephen Jones had a record-breaking start to his Wales career and retired as the most experienced player in the famous red jersey.

The ever-reliable fly-half racked up 104 caps by the time he hung up his boots in 2013, and while that total has since been surpassed, Jones’ place in the pantheon of greats has long been secured.

But before his four World Cups, two British & Irish Lions’ tours and 50 appearances in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, Jones was the silver lining of a very dark cloud.

The heaviest defeat Wales have ever suffered came at the hands of South Africa in 1998 with Jones earning his maiden cap as a wide-eyed 20-year-old and replacement for John Funnell.

The unfussy No.10 was playing for Llanelli at the time, going on to score 1932 points in 209 appearances in his first spell in west Wales.

Jones had international rugby’s greatest points scorer and Welsh phenomenon Neil Jenkins ahead of him in the pecking order at the turn of the century.

But the youngster was turning into a technically flawless and well-rounded professional, destined to take over the reins and end Wales’ 11-year wait for a Six Nations title.

During the course of the 2005 Championship, Jones scored 57 points as Wales clinched their first Grand Slam since 1978.

The fly-half was instrumental in the crucial 24-18 win over France in Paris, slotting a late penalty and 75th minute drop goal to seal the result.

And after orchestrating a first victory over England in six years and a first victory over Ireland in five, Jones was named BBC’s fly-half of the Championship.

But ahead of the 2007 Rugby World Cup – already Jones’ third – there was a fresh challenge on the horizon.

The emergence of James Hook had thrown the race for the No.10 jersey wide open and Jones was named on the bench for Wales’ opening game against Canada.

But his guile and experience shone through, with head coach Gareth Jenkins putting faith in the 29-year-old for the remaining three pool matches as Wales finished third behind Fiji and Australia.

Like a fine wine, Jones was only getting better with age, spearheading another Grand Slam success in 2008 while sharing kicking duties with Hook.

And the following year, the fly-half, who was now in the middle of his six-year stint with Scarlets after a successful sojourn in France with Clermont, ended as the Championship’s top points scorer with 63.

Just a month later, Jones was named in the British & Irish Lions squad for the second time, starting all three Tests and breaking the Lions record for most points scored against the Springboks in a single match.

2011 would spell the end of Jones’ long and distinguished international career and with it came the greatest honour of all.

After helping Wales to three wins in the Six Nations, the then-33-year-old flew out to New Zealand for his final swansong.

Warren Gatland handed Jones his 101st cap in a stunning 81-7 victory over Namibia to all but seal Wales place in the quarter-finals.

The century of caps set by Gareth Thomas in 2007 had been overtaken and Jones was now the outright record appearance maker for his country.

He was a replacement in the semi-final loss to France and ran out for his final international battle in the bronze final loss to Australia – their best finish since 1987.

His 970-point haul for his country puts him eighth on the list of all-time international scorers and second behind his predecessor Jenkins on the Welsh charts.

Since retiring in 2013, the native Welsh speaker was an attacking coach for two years at Wasps before returning to Scarlets to become their backs coach.

At 44 years of age the living legend is still serving the nation that bore him, assisting Wayne Pivac as attack coach and imparting all his accumulated wisdom to the current generation of Welsh stars.