Rugby

My Lord! Has The Controversial Stephen Jones Become Irish Rugby's Biggest Admirer?

My Lord! Has The Controversial Stephen Jones Become Irish Rugby's Biggest Admirer?

We've had a good run but the long war between Stephen Jones and the Irish rugby fan may well be at an end.

The four remaining Irish rugby supporters who have not yet been blocked by Jones on twitter witnessed a historic moment last night.

Hate-reading his verdicts has been a favourite pursuit of rugby-loving Irish masochists for the past decade and a half, ever since he marked himself out as a wind-up merchant of unusual promise when he referred to Ireland as "the smuggest rugby nation" back during the 2002 Six Nations.

Irish websites have reaped the benefits of this, to be sure. The fact that he may no longer be presenting us with fresh potential for outrage is a source of great sorrow.

(NOTE: While all Irish sports websites are currently blocked by Jones, it has always been crucial that at least one member of staff stay under the radar so as not to attract his ire and risk blocking).

But Jones, who we shouldn't forget is a former winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, has been on a journey for some time.

The roots of that journey go back to the 2009 Six Nations when Jones announced that Ronan O'Gara might not have been the bog-standard, unremarkable out-half that he had originally taken him for. He pronounced O'Gara a "masterly operator" and said he expected him to "play rugby of the highest quality" next time out.

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Ironically, O'Gara then delivered one of his shakiest displays for some time as Ireland sneaked by a mediocre England side by a point.

Still the 2009 article on O'Gara was the start of the rapprochement between Jones and the Irish rugby fan.

There have been blips along the way. As when he suggested Tom Shanklin and Gavin Henson as the ideal Lions centre pairing in 2009, this being the same year that Brian O'Driscoll won the Six Nations Player of the Tournament and Ireland won the Grand Slam.

Even in the O'Gara article, he referred to Peter Stringer as "drastically limited" and said he wouldn't get a job as a "third string back-up" in the Premiership, a judgement which he might concede has now been conclusively proven wrong. At 38 years of age, Stringer is still the starting scrum half for Sale Sharks and was named their Player of the Season in 2015-16.

But the general trajectory was positive. We cite here his rapturous response to the retirement of Paul O'Connell. Having recommended that he be dropped from the Lions starting line-up back in 2009 (that really was a big year in Jones-Ireland story) he now brackets him among the finest locks in the history of the game.

He revived wonderfully, was magnificent way into his 30s and as recently as two seasons ago played a match against Harlequins for Munster in which the opposition seemed stupefied, too cowed even to jump against him.We have seen some great locks in this era - Matfield, Johnson, Shaw, Wyn Jones, Sharpe, Albacete.

But for his longevity, warrior spirit, nous and for the influence he wielded in his teams, O'Connell takes all the beating, even in that company.

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His reaction to last night's game is the culmination of this journey. Ireland and New Zealand are the world's two best teams. "By a street, no less".

That isn't even the full story. Not only does Jones insist that Ireland belong in the top two nations in the planet, but he goes onto suggest that they may even be in the top 1.

Here is the second paragraph of his match report in the Sunday Times today.

But whether over the course of the two games we can now be sure of the very best team, the No. 1 is still open to doubt. Ireland's mental state, their physical resistance, and their spirit in this match was every bit as remarkable as it was in Chicago.

My word! Even Irish rugby writers were not so unrestrained in their praise.

So, we say to Stephen Jones - 1993 William Hill Sports Book the Year award winner, past UK Rugby writer of the year, winner of no fewer than seventeen awards in sports journalism (we are indebted to his own twitter account for this information) - the hostilities can cease.

Read more: The Mightily Relieved New Zealand Media Reaction To Beating Ireland

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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