Welsh pushing for the top
Warriors' rising prop star will not give an inch in showdown with Leinster
Published 08/01/2010 | 05:00
A COLD night in Donnybrook in February 2008 and the Ireland Club XV claim an exciting match against their Scottish counterparts on a 20-15 scoreline.
The 'club international' concept has been a progressive move, a welcome recognition for the All-Ireland League as well as a means of assessing candidates for the step-up to professional rugby.
Following that night in Dublin 4, Garryowen hooker Damien Varley has since broken through at Munster, via a short stint with Wasps, while substitute scrum-half Sam Cronin was another to catch the eye that evening and is a player with the game for a higher level -- as he is proving with dolphin in the AIB League this season.
Notes from that match had more of a Hibernian than Caledonian focus, but mention was given to a powerful showing by the Scotland props, so much so that when the Scots were awarded a penalty deep in Irish territory on 80 minutes, rather than take the usual line-out option, they opted for the scrum.
It didn't work out, but it was nonetheless an impressive showing by the Scottish props, one of whom was a 21-year-old member of the Glasgow Huthesons' Aloysius club, Jon Welsh, who returns to southside Dublin this weekend as loose-head prop for the Glasgow Warriors' Magners League meeting with Leinster.
It was Welsh's performances for the international club side that brought him to the attention of the Warriors. Once he was on the Glasgow outfit's radar, Welsh was assigned to the West of Scotland club, where he came under the guidance of former Scotland No 8 John Beattie (whose son, also named John, lines out in the same position against Leinster).
After a succession of destructive scrummaging performances for West, Welsh made his debut for the Warriors in last May's 34-23 defeat at the Ospreys, picking up a yellow card for good measure.
His rapid development prompted Beattie to go on the record, claiming Welsh had the potential to follow an illustrious line of Scottish loose-heads that includes names such as Ian 'Mighty Mouse' McLauchlan, David Sole and Tom Smith.
"(Glasgow coach) Sean Lineen phoned me and I told him Jon was the best loose-head prop in the country," said Beattie last year.
"Jon has great scrummaging ability and for a man of his young age he is very powerful and rarely gives an inch. From his very first game, I knew he had it as we were playing Glasgow Hawks and he took their front-row to the cleaners.
"I'll give you an indication on what this boy is made of. He has twice broken his leg, recovered very quickly in both instances and in the case of the second incident, he played on for another 10 minutes. It is no surprise to me Sean has called him up, although some have wondered if he is too young to make this step up.
"Listen, you have Super 14 teams in New Zealand blooding young props who are still in their teens, so if you've got a good prospect, then why keep him away from the action?
"Aside from his set-piece play, in the loose he is a fantastic ball carrier, he is very hard to put down and he literally crashes into you in the tackle, so he's got a great all-round game. He has a good future ahead of him."
Beattie's words proved prophetic as Welsh began this season as first-choice loose-head and, in Glasgow's opening Magners League outing, helped to lay waste to the Munster front row on the way to a 22-9 victory at Firhill.
"I've never seen a Glasgow side scrummage like that during my time in charge," said a delighted Beattie afterwards.
Since that night in September, Welsh has only failed to start one match, the defeat away to the Dragons later that month, one of only two Magners League defeats for the table-toppers. He emerged with great credit from his December Heineken Cup battles with New Zealand's most-capped prop Greg Somerville and emphasised his international credentials with an accomplished display for Scotland 'A' the previous month.
Unassuming and a proud Glaswegian, Welsh worked for three years as an electrician before switching to the pro scene and also credits his time boxing in the 'Bad Apple Gym' in the Gorbals club (he won a Scottish Junior title at 14) as providing him with valuable tools for advancement in rugby.
"It definitely taught me a lot and did stand me in good stead for this, and for life," said Welsh. "It taught me about discipline, respect for others. It was a good foundation and is something I would recommend to others to think about.
"Glasgow is my home team; it's my club. I was raised just two minutes down from Whitecraigs (Glasgow's training base), I went to the youth club at the local baptist church. I remember sitting here as a wee boy watching that TV -- that has been here for years.
"I think the fact I didn't come into it straight away has made me strong, or want it more. I'm a time-served electrician, and after getting up to start work at eight every morning, and working straight through to half four, to now be doing something you really love is absolutely brilliant.
"Each day you get a different challenge, in the gym or on the pitch -- there's always something you can improve on. It's about taking that challenge on. The spirit at Glasgow is absolutely top-drawer and the table shows that. I can't imagine anything better than waking up and going to work at something you love."
Allan Jacobsen, Kyle Traynor and Alasdair Dickinson are the obstacles in the way of Welsh's international elevation, but he has the size (6' 1" and 18.5 stone) and the form for the job and his battle with Stan Wright -- and possibly Mike Ross off the bench -- this evening will be interesting.
Scotland toiled through the last decade low on inspiration and success, but under new coach Andy Robinson they are developing a formidable front five, with Moray Low, Euan Murray and now Welsh adding to an imposing array of front-row talent.
The 23-year-old refuses to look too far ahead or tempt fate, but undoubtedly has a burning ambition to go with his talent.
"I am confident in my own abilities. My first season was not very good, with injuries, and I knew I had only two years to put my hand up, so I had to take this season head-on. And it has been good; it's progressing.
"I just go in and try my hardest."