Tuesday 23 January 2018

Hunger for glory driving full-back to new heights in red shirt

Former Leinster man eager to land silverware and force way into Ireland's World Cup line-up

Munster's Felix Jones in action during training ahead of the game against Ulster
Munster's Felix Jones in action during training ahead of the game against Ulster

Daragh Small

There is no greater honour for a professional athlete than to be recognised by their own peers. Next Wednesday Munster full-back Felix Jones is in the running for the Hibernia College Medal for Excellence, and he is delighted his team-mates and others from outside the province think he is worthy of such an honour.

This IRUPA award is presented to someone who has demonstrated 'exceptional commitment to the game both on and off the field'.

"I think to be nominated for any of the IRUPA awards is great because it's an award that is voted for by players, so the guys in your province or those from other provinces are voting for you," says Ireland international Jones.

"From my point of view that's the great thing about it."

The 27-year old, who used to be on the books at Leinster, suffered a succession of injury woes when he first crossed the divide.

However, that is all behind him now and 83 appearances into his Munster career, Jones is focusing on the future.

"I haven't had any injuries of significance except your normal wear and tear throughout the year but last year I didn't have any either so I have had a solid two years of rugby behind me," he says.

"Staying fit for me is obviously a big thing but it's not just me because if you look at the rates of injuries at the moment in any squad, they're reaching a whole new level.

"The number of retirements these days through injury is staggering.

"I can't speak for other positions, but in my position I know we are running at pretty high speeds into contact so the collisions are pretty heavy.

"But that's just a part of the game these day. I've been lucky enough now this year and last year not to have any major issues but when you look across the other provinces you'll see many other guys in similar positions that haven't been so lucky."

Jones has ten tries for Munster now and his form for the province earned him an Ireland call-up - he has 11 caps for his country.

But the Dun Laoghaire native wants to keep his sights set on Munster's Pro12 run-in before he thinks about the World Cup in England later this year.


"With Munster not getting to the knockout stages of Europe, where we see ourselves and where we wanted to be at the start of the season it was a big disappointment," he says.

"Looking back at it, the most disappointing thing about it was probably the performance at home against Clermont, but we have to move on from that.

"We have Ulster this weekend and we need to win that game and try to get ourselves a home semi-final, but Ulster are in tremendous form.

"They are playing great rugby and should they get a home semi-final and win that they have a home final in Kingspan Stadium. Of course in a semi-final anything can happen but we want to have our game at home."

Jones came on as a replacement in Ireland's Six Nations victories over Italy and England this year.

The former St Andrew's College student says that despite the dramatic finale to Ireland's second successive Six Nations winning campaigns, it will have little bearing on the team come World Cup time.

"That was a great experience to win it like that in Murrayfield on the final day. I was a little bit frustrated coming in at times and not being involved from the off," he says.

"Obviously you want to play as much as you possibly can - I would be lying if I said that wasn't my ambition - so I was a bit disappointed not to get the game-time.

"However, being part of a team you have to contribute to the group in the most positive way possible off the bench for however many minutes you are getting in each game. You have to apply yourself and put your best foot forward.

"The final day was really dramatic but I don't know if it really helped the team bond. We all watched the game together, the first half down underneath the stand in Murrayfield and then we went to go up for dinner for the post-match reception.

"It was a different experience but I don't think it makes you bond just because of how the other events are unfolding. It was an incredible day of sport but it's normally events on the field that would help the team come together."

Ireland are blessed with many options in the back three at the moment and Jones will have to fight for his spot on the plane in September.

However, his work-rate is much admired by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and if the Munster man maintains his standards it could be a straight shootout between him and Rob Kearney for a starting spot.

"I am enjoying the way I'm playing at the moment with Munster and I'm enjoying my rugby so if I can provide the performances off the back of that then I will be happy," he says.

"No-one is harder on me than myself in terms how I enter the game and how I assess the way I played afterwards.

"You can't really get too hung up about it and get yourself into a negative frame of mind. The big thing for me is that I can play well and put myself in a position where the ones that are picking the teams think the same."

Irish Independent

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