By Chris Rattue
Michael Jones needed piles of painkillers and a dozen stitches after being gashed to the bone before he could see out the final 35 minutes of his great rugby career as Auckland won the NPC grand final against Wellington at Eden Park.
Auckland put behind them the nightmare of last year's eighth finish to claim their 12th national title, and the first under new coaches Wayne Pivac and Grant Fox and rookie captain Paul Thomson.
Saturday night's 24-18 win gave the 55-test Jones, who is retiring, a fitting farewell in front of a disappointing crowd of 22,000.
The 34-year-old Jones was assisted to the "bloodbin" at halftime with an injured right arm. Finau Maka replaced him.
But there are bloodbins, and bloodbins. A rucking incident had left Jones with a 15cm cut on his inner arm just below the elbow.
The edges of the cut were 6cm apart, the muscle had been sliced, and the medics could see some bone which made them think initially he had suffered a compound fracture.
"There was a bit of blood, but Michael isn't a bad bleeder," said Auckland doctor Graham Patterson. "Everyone is different. If it was Craig Dowd, we'd still be mopping it up.
"I don't know how many injections I put in. There was a lot of pain. We've got a digital camera picture of it and it's not a pretty sight.
"A lot of people would have called it quits, but there was no way he wanted that. He kept saying 'just get me back out there'."
Jones told Auckland officials his arm had been trapped, and he had copped a "cheap shot."
His return to the field early in the second spell will only add to the Jones legend, that of a player who repeatedly picked himself up from extremely serious injuries to continue virtually a peerless career as a loose forward of every style.
Thomson credited him as the inspirational force in Auckland's win, saying: "Suddenly there would be a blue blur and it would be Michael Jones smashing them down."
Jones was carried on the shoulders of team-mates after the match, then shook hands with fans in front of the new stand.
Outside the Auckland changing room, he said he had no regrets about deciding to call it quits, and winning the NPC title had reinforced that.
"I know I'll miss the guys and the team environment, but I'll always keep in contact. I'll always be here for them. Hopefully, they'll see me as their big brother.
"I've had ups and downs in the game but that is what you learn to live with. Rugby has taught me a lot about life."