The Big Interview: Ryan Jones on Grand Slams, leading Wales and living the dream

“I got to live my dream but it wasn’t just my dream. It was my dad’s dream, my dad’s dad’s dream and then all of my mates’ dream too. We shared some wonderful memories and experiences and that is the real magic when I sit back and reflect on my career.”

“I got to live my dream but it wasn’t just my dream. It was my dad’s dream, my dad’s dad’s dream and then all of my mates’ dream too. We shared some wonderful memories and experiences and that is the real magic when I sit back and reflect on my career.”

Few players epitomise Wales’ 21st century success quite like Ryan Jones.

From the joy of ’05 to the thrill of ’13, the Newport-born flanker was at the heart of Welsh rugby for eight trophy-laden years, winning 75 caps, three Grand Slams and four Six Nations titles.

With club side Ospreys, he added four Guinness PRO14 titles and also toured twice with the British & Irish Lions, where, in 2005, he stood up admirably in the face of a New Zealand onslaught.

But it is in the Six Nations that Jones forged his reputation, his career bookended with Championship trophies. In eight years, he won it four times, while his head-to-head record against rivals England is 6-2 in his favour. Not bad for a kid from Newport who preferred tennis.


Jones hardly picked up an oval ball until he was 16, fresh from being released by Bristol City where he was a promising goalkeeper.

He joined Bristol Rugby Club when he was 17 and from there played for Newport, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Bridgend before Welsh Rugby introduced the regions in 2003.

Jones joined Ospreys and made his debut in 2004, while two months later, he was first selected by Wales and made his debut against South Africa. Three months after that, he was at the heart of Wales’ most famous Grand Slam.

“2005 to this day is still my favourite Six Nations. We had such a magic nine-week period, based on the fact that there was a generation of rugby fans in Wales who had never seen a Grand Slam or real success,” he said.

“We beat England in Cardiff in Round 1, which galvanised this group. But it wasn’t a processed thought through Six Nations. It looked like a rag-tag group of men who were playing rugby in an authentic fashion. Everything went to plan. Everything we talked about, we executed. It came off. I don’t think I experienced it at any other time in my career.”


Gavin Henson inspired Wales to an 11-9 win against England in Round 1, Italy were beaten comfortably a week later and then Martyn Williams’ double did for France in Round 3. Jones saved his best for Round 4 against Scotland.

“Scoring that try against Scotland is a wonderful memory for me. I still tease Shane [Williams] that it is still the greatest try of our generation, which he doesn’t agree with,” he said.

“I got the ball in my own half and [head coach] Mike Ruddock mentioned to me about moving the ball so people weren’t sure what to focus on. I saw the two Scotland second rows there and I did what looked like this wonderful dummy about ten yards away that no-one even flinched at, so I ducked my head and remember thinking I’ll either get smashed or break through.

“I got through the first tackle and then the pitch opened up. BT Murrayfield is a wonderful, wonderful arena to play in, the acoustics are magic and I remember as I made my way into the 22, we went through some passing, and I kept thinking I might get it back. And then Martyn Williams passing it back to me and I thought I just need to get it down. I then executed the world’s worst dive. I wasn’t overly proud of it but I knew my parents were in that end, in the stand so I was hoping they saw it.

“It was only yesterday when my mum was telling me she didn’t actually see the try until the Monday night because, bless her, my mum is only 5’5 and when everyone stood up as we approached the 22, she couldn’t see. So, she missed it live and when they went back to the hotel that evening and the re-run was on the TV, the same thing happened in the pub. So, she could not see it on the re-run either. It was a genuinely magic moment really.”

Wales beat Scotland 46-22 that day and then completed their first Grand Slam since 1976 with a 32-20 win against Ireland. The bars in Cardiff earned a good trade that night.

But Wales struggled to push on. They fell back to earth with a bump, finishing fifth in both 2006 and 2007 before a pool stage exit at the World Cup in France.

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So ahead of the 2008 Six Nations, Wales turned to Warren Gatland as head coach. And he turned to Ryan Jones.

“I’ll never forget where I was on the M4 when the phone rang and this Kiwi voice came through,” he said.

“I didn’t believe when he started and spoke about who he was and what he stood for and he asked if I would like to captain Wales, which is a fairly short conversation with a fairly quick answer.

“I rang my family and my mum and dad were in tears and I was in tears.”

In his 12 years in charge, Gatland got a lot of decisions right. And making Jones his first Wales captain was one of them.

In a sign of things to come, Gatland’s Wales made an instant impact by beating England away in Round 1. The momentum from that success helped spark another Grand Slam.

“There were some enormous milestones. Going up to Twickenham and winning for the first time in 23 years, against the odds too. We were up against it, if it wasn’t for Huw Bennett’s tackle on Paul Sackey just before half-time to hold him up and force a subsequent scrum then I am not sure we would have won that one.

“We went out to Fulham after and had a night out. Gats always said Championships are not won drinking orange juice, so we certainly made sure in an earlier part of the Six Nations that we did well.”

Of his 75 caps, Jones was captain in 33 of them, which was a record until Sam Warburton – his successor – overtook him.

Warburton replaced Jones in 2010, led Wales to the World Cup and another Grand Slam in 2012 before an injury in the first game in 2013 ruled him out of the Championship. Interim head coach Rob Howley – standing in for Gatland while he prepared to take charge of the Lions – knew exactly where to turn.

“I would argue it is the highest profile position in Wales. It is up there with the First Minister and everything else, everyone knows who you are and your business. There are 3.2 million of us who can do your job better than you can, so it really is a unique position,” he said.

“You have to remember that I was a kid from Newport who happened to be good at rugby, but nothing prepares you for the weight of expectation and everything that comes with captaincy. Again, it was something I loved to do and it made me very proud. There was nothing better than walking down the tunnel at Principality Stadium, or any stadium.

“You’re leading your mates and peers out, wearing the red jersey and that is why it’s an honour when you get your 50th cap or 100th cap because it’s a magic experience. I loved that and thrived in that but with it came other responsibilities, like the media and dealing with victory and dealing with losses, trying to manage your own form throughout it. It is hard to balance all of these different things but not let it affect what your main job is.

“To say I loved it would not be doing it justice, it meant more to me than that. I really enjoyed it and it meant the world to me.”

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Jones was handed the armband again and led Wales to three straight away wins against France, Italy and Scotland. But it proved to be a bittersweet Championship.

A broken shoulder against Scotland ruled him out of the decider with England, which Wales famously won 30-3 to pip their great rivals to the title. He would not play for Wales again.

After retiring in 2015, Jones stayed in rugby. He worked for the WRU as Director of Community Rugby and then Performance Director before stepping down last year.

Rugby, and the Six Nations, are in his blood.

“To this day, the Six Nations defines my career,” he summarised.

“I get introduced and I am fiercely proud to say I am part of a unique group to win three Grand Slams and an additional Championship. It was an ever-present during my career, I am very fortunate that I played international rugby throughout my entire professional career really.

“I am five years retired now but the magic of the Six Nations still captivates me. I was here two weekends ago with my dad in a red jersey watching the Six Nations. I have fallen in love with it in a different guise. I am a rugby fan and then a Welsh fan too. It’s who I am.”