'You have to have a thick skin, literally and figuratively' - the propping life of Adam Jones
Rhino Prop Star judge Adam Jones has played for the best and against the best. Here, the Wales and Lions legend talks exclusively to The Locker Room about his life in the front row.
With 100 Test caps to his name for Wales and the British & Irish Lions, Harlequins tighthead Adam Jones knows better than most what makes a good prop – and why they’re a different breed to other rugby players. “I think you’ve got to be mentally tough,” says Jones. “If you’re not, you get found out pretty easily. Generally, I would have said props are the ones who were picked last at school before rugby came along. Fortunately for me, rugby did come along. Rugby’s a sport that caters for all sizes, so if you’ve got a thick neck, big back and big backside – then you’ll be fine as a prop.”
When I was growing up it was the props who were the ones at the bar, always leading the singing and festivities
It’s not just about the physical characteristics that Jones believes defines props. “It might have changed now, but certainly when I was growing up it was the props who were the ones at the bar, always leading the singing and festivities.
“When I played internationals, after the game, it was always the props who would be chewing the fat with the opposition – the backs didn’t mix with each other at dinner in the same way. I remember playing England on my debut (in 2003) and Jason Leonard was the first guy to come and have a chat and a pint and ask me what’s going on. Same with Ireland, it was Reggie Corrigan and John Hayes who would always talk. I think there’s always a bond between props because you realise what you put your body through – we’re all like-minded.”
Jones with Rhino training equipment during his time with Wales
That ‘like-minded’ nature also extends to the banter. “The fact is the majority of us were big-boned kids,” says Jones, “so you’ve grown up being called fat on and off the field. That means you have to have a thick skin, literally and figuratively – basically we can take the mickey out of each other. And it doesn’t take a lot of sessions after meeting each other either – after one session, you’ll be doing it almost immediately! I coach at Richmond and we have our Whatsapp group and the banter is always flying, it’s always a good crack among front rowers.”
While Jones grew up in a different era of rugby, over the course of his 100-Test career (95 for Wales and five for the British & Irish Lions), he saw the value of props rise considerably. “In the last five or six years, people have cottoned-on to the fact props do an important job,” he says. “At many teams, tighthead props – not me though – have been the highest paid players. Sides know that if they've got good props, they’ve got a good scrum and that’s how you win the game. These days props do more than scrummage, take the three boys we have at Harlequins. Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler and Will Collier are all multi-skilled, and multi-talented.”
I think only a prop can be a scrum coach, I can’t think of many backrowers who are scrum coaches. Anyone can be a forwards coach, but it’s not easy to be a scrum coach if you’ve not been there.
Now developing as a coach, sharing his knowledge at Harlequins and helping out at Championship side Richmond, Jones believes props make the best scrum coaches. “I think it’s one of those positions that’s so specialist, unless you’ve been a prop you don’t know what goes on there. Generally I think only a prop can be a scrum coach. I can’t think of many backrowers who are scrum coaches. Anyone can be a forwards coach, but it’s not easy to be a scrum coach if you’ve not been there. I also think the boys like the fact you’ve played prop so you understand what’s going on.”
After winning 100 caps, Jones began his journey into coaching.
Respect is something Jones has earned wherever he’s gone, whether it’s been Neath, Ospreys, Blues, Harlequins or Wales and the British and Irish Lions at international level. But when it comes to his own heroes, who gets his respect? Who are his heroes? “Jason Leonard was probably one,” he says. “and then from the Welsh side, it was Dai Young. But perhaps the player I was the biggest fan of was Olo Brown, who played for the All Blacks in the ‘90s. My mother and father loved the All Blacks for some reason and I remember watching him a lot – he was some player!”
The fact is, I’m a big lad, and I’d never have played international rugby or achieved anything in rugby in any other position."
One thing Jones also respects is he career as a prop and what it’s done for him. “Without wishing to become emotional or anything, I am very grateful that I became a prop,” he admits. “The fact is, I’m a big lad, and I’d never have played international rugby or achieved anything in rugby in any other position. Being a prop is what gave me a big chance in life.”
Adam Jones is a judge of Rhino Prop Star 2017, a search for the amateur prop who goes above and beyond for his club. The prize includes customised post protectors for their club, a Rhino 2017 British & Irish Lions hit shield and personalised Rhino hoodie for two runners-up.
All you have to do to enter, is send us a good quality picture of your nominated prop and tell us why you think he/she deserves to be crowned Rhino Prop Star 2017. We’re looking for props who go the extra mile for their club/community cause both on and off the field. You can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message via our Twitter or Facebook pages.