A charity designed to help young rugby players who suffer the loss of a parent has enlisted All Blacks and Wallaby legends for a major fundraiser at Eden Park. Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer reports.
When 10-year-old Josh Clarke's mum – "the greatest woman in my life" – was mowed down and killed by a drink driver, he didn't know what to do.
His dad didn't either. He sent him to school and rugby practice, just like normal, and young Josh threw himself into tackles and rucks with a vengeance.
At the funeral, he was buoyed at the sight of his Marist Rugby Club teammates and coach showing solidarity in their tracksuits.
Life went on. Watching from afar, another Marist clubman, Michael Jones, wondered how that kid was coping.
That was in 2002. For years, Jones thought about that poor kid who lost his beloved mum, and what help he got to work through such a tragedy.
Fourteen years later, still hearing stories about youngsters losing a parent, Jones decided to do something about it.
He launched Jonesy's Youth Foundation and registered it as a charity. The idea was to use rugby as a vehicle to develop the confidence, values and life skills of young rugby players, both girls and boys.
With junior rugby coaches in influential mentoring roles, Jones wanted to provide grassroots coach training to help them make a difference in the broken young lives.
Jones is currently helping eight children who have recently lost a parent. This weekend he's going to Mount Maunganui to watch three young lads play rugby.
His first step is to always meet with the family and see where they are at.
He talks to the child, their rugby coach, club captain, or president, and works out a plan.
"We try to help the coach work through what he has to deal with and what support we can bring because the kid will see the coach two to three times a week and so he becomes a bit more influential in his life," Jones says.
"When it happens – it's probably a bit of a Kiwi thing – we just go, that's really bad, but we don't want to bring it up again and talk about it. Yes it is tricky but it's good for them to talk about it.
"One lad just now, we talk about it, and it's good for him. Part of his grieving is talking. His dad was a cool dude, who took him fishing and to the rugby. You can't hide those things and kids are more honest and open and tell it how it is."
The kids all get new footy boots, socks and shorts. A mentor is available, and former All Black flanker Josh Kronfeld has said he'll get involved. They're going to get kids on the highly respected Spirit of Adventure youth development programme.
One of the boys Jones has been helping for the past two years recently came to him to say he doesn't want to play rugby this season.
Jones asked what he was passionate about and discovered it was film-making. He wanted to do a course. And on his birthday, Jones bought him an iPad, on one condition: "That he had to make a movie about the foundation and present it at the gala dinner in August."
The gala dinner, the charity's major fundraiser for the year, will be hosted at Eden Park on August 3. It's called, 'Keeping up with the Jones' and will feature guest speakers, including All Blacks legends Sir Michael Jones and Ian Jones along with former Wallabies captain Nick Farr-Jones, as well as another All Black great, Stu Wilson, and former Wallaby David Campese.
For the past year, Jones has been putting together a signed, framed photograph of all eight Rugby World Cup winners hoisting the Webb Ellis Trophy. He tracked down David Kirk, Farr-Jones, Francois Pienaar, John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit, and Richie McCaw. It's expected to fetch several thousand dollars when it goes under the hammer at the dinner.
Bringing events full circle to the young Josh Clarke who lost his mother 17 years ago, the now 28-year-old had the unique keepsake mounted and framed for Jones.
It was a couple of years ago when Jones entered an Auckland stationery store and recognised the assistant manager.
They got talking and Clarke – a married father-of-one – wanted to help.
"When I lost my mother, the rugby team and club that I was a part of really helped," says Clarke, who instantly got what Jones was trying to do.
"They probably didn't think they were helping at all, but just being able to go to rugby training and get on with things took my mind off things. And Jonesy just builds on that, taking it to another couple of levels.
"They say it's three months before everyone who was there to support you get back to their lives, so a couple of months down the track, you can be left to your own thoughts and that definitely can be a hard thing. If there was something like Jonesy's around when it happened to me, it would definitely have helped."
In the last few months, Jones has been talking with Auckland Rugby and New Zealand Rugby. He wants to be able to help kids across New Zealand.
"Rugby clubs are in a position to really help these kids," Jones says.
"A lady got hold of me yesterday. Her son is at [an Auckland rugby club] and he's lost his dad. What happens? Can you help us? Of course.
"There's one kid I've been hanging out with for the last nine months. He's changed a little bit; he's a bit more confident. And while I'm not saying he's fully happy – he's lost his dad – there are things that we can do to put a smile on his dial. And that's pretty cool."