Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks - 1st XV: No 6 Michael Jones

Three tests have a special significance for Michael Jones whose sculpture adorns Eden Park where he played so many glittering matches for Auckland and the All Blacks.

He is self-conscious that his statue is the only one on show at the ground but accepts his likeness honours everyone in the '87 All Black side who won the initial World Cup.

Jones scored the first try of that tournament and four years later when the event shifted to a start at Twickenham. His never on Sunday beliefs and the All Blacks schedule meant Jones was left out of the '95 side in South Africa.

Around those issues and a list of major injuries, Jones played 55 All Black tests-the same as Colin Meads.

Jones test career began with a solitary outing for Samoa against Wales in 1986. Jones was born in Auckland and his dream was always to play for the All Blacks although he made frequent trips to Samoa to honour his heritage.

Eligibility was not an issue then and Jones swapped to the All Blacks in '87 as they strode to their global crown.

"With our forward pack, AJ (Whetton) and Buck (Shelford) it was an armchair ride for me," he said.

Jones was four when his father died and he was brought up by his mother in a household where the church was a huge part of their lives. Sunday was devoted to their faith and Jones vowed to never play rugby on the Sabbath.

His coaches understood but that conviction came under huge pressure on the 1992 tour of Australia against the Wallabies at Brisbane. The All Blacks had lost the first test, loose forwards Kevin Schuler, Jamie Joseph and Mike Brewer were injured and replacements had been summonsed.

Jones was fit but resolute about his faith as well and watched from the grandstand.
He needed all that belief three years earlier to recover from an horrific injury when he tried to toe the ball past a Puma forward at Athletic Park and ended up demolishing the ligaments in his right knee in a nauseating collision.

"I still feel squeamish thinking about it," he said. "I had strained ligaments before but the way I got hit everything was wrong. My body went over the top of him. I heard a massive clunk, my knee was ripped apart and the ligaments exploded."

"I have not felt plain like it since."

Jones talked to athletes who had suffered similar trauma and believes his comeback helped take his character to another level as he reinvented his game.

Injury and his faith brought Jones through those tests and there was one more frontier for Jones to cross as he and the All Blacks set about creating history with a series win in South Africa in '96.

That came at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria as the All Blacks outlasted a ferocious Springbok comeback to claim their prize. At the final whistle, both sides sank in to the turf and Jones said he had had never been so exhausted.

"It was the greatest battle that day, it was physical and mental," he said.

Once his test days were done, Jones coached Samoa as the nation sought more chances in global rugby competitions. They have missed out on the Super rugby series and have yet to persuade the All Blacks to play in the islands.

Jones knows there are financial hurdles but like his idol Bryan Williams, believes such a test would be a huge symbol of support for rugby in the Pacific.

"It would be a priceless message of goodwill," he said.

Statistics
Date of birth: 8 April 1965
Position: Blindside flanker
Matches: 74
Tests: 55
Test debut: 22 May 1987 v Italy, Auckland
Last test: 1 August 1998 v Australia, Christchurch
Province: Auckland
Franchise: Blues
Test tries: 13
Test points: 56

- NZ Herald

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