"This city means so much to me"
“Seven years is a relatively short period of time, but then you think back to how things were right at the start and it feels like a lifetime ago.”
Lee Jones pauses as he reflects on his journey with Glasgow Warriors, the curtain having come down on his time at Scotstoun at the conclusion of the 2020/21 campaign. After 92 appearances, 18 tries and countless defenders beaten through either a sharp turn of pace or his deceptive strength on the ball, the winger will be moving on to pastures new this summer.
It’s an outcome that even Jones himself potentially never envisaged when pulled to the side of a training session halfway around the world back in February 2014.
“I was out playing for Scotland 7s in the Las Vegas and Wellington legs, so we’d played the event in Vegas and then flown out to Wellington,” explained the winger.
“We were training in the week leading up to it and Stephen Gemmell – the coach at the time – came over and said ‘look, I think you’re going to have to fly back and play for Glasgow this weekend’. Halfway around the world and as a fully-fledged Edinburgh player at the time, that was a strange one!
“The Glasgow game was on the Sunday, so I flew out of Wellington at 4am, did the team run on the Saturday and was in the team for the Sunday. Niko was playing full-back in that game I think, and it was so cold and wet that he had his hands in a basin of hot water at half-time! It was awesome, though – we won the game, I think with Mark Bennett scoring the winner. We then went down to Cardiff and beat them on Ed Kalman’s 100th game and I scored my first try – the rest is a blur!”
Whilst he might have arrived at Scotstoun bearing few ties to either the Warriors or Glasgow as a whole, it’s safe to say that – seven years on – the man from Selkirk is now also an adopted Glaswegian.
On and off the pitch, it’s safe to say the club and the city have had a major impact on the 32-year-old.
“We [Jones and wife Charline] moved to Glasgow not knowing anything about the city really,” admitted Jones.
“I lived, studied and played in Edinburgh for so long, and I could probably count the number of times I’d been to Glasgow on one hand. Both Charline and I have come to love the place over time, though – it’s such a welcoming club and a welcoming city and it’s a real part of our lives.
“You do build friendships with all the guys and I still keep in touch with a lot of guys who have moved on. James Eddie was a big help for me when I first arrived – I knew him a bit from the 7s and he lived just around the corner from me. If there was ever a man who knew everyone in Glasgow, it was him! Need a plumber? No worries, James has a man he knows.”
Capped 10 times by Scotland in addition to a 7s career that has seen him join an exclusive group of players to have played at three successive Commonwealth Games, it perhaps comes as a surprise to many fans that Jones remains eight appearances shy of a century in Glasgow colours. Indeed, were it not for a couple of injury setbacks, it’s a nigh on certainty that the winger would be leaving the club as a Centurion this summer.
The man himself refuses to have any regrets, however; instead, Jones – who frequently comes up in discussions as amongst the club’s best trainers – prefers to highlight the work of those at the club that often goes unseen.
“Everyone picks up injuries over the course of their career, but in the last couple of years it’s been tough,” admitted Jones.
“It wasn’t just one injury that I knew would keep me out for a certain length of time. At the same time, though, it’s the same approach you take to every injury – there’s always something you can do to get better in some way.
“I just really want to highlight the support of the medics and the S&C team, because they were excellent. I worked a lot with Liam Walshe, especially in the first block of my rehab, and the way he goes about what he does is fantastic – he just keeps everyone positive. You’ve got a whole host of guys in the long-term injured group, all with something different but all going through the same stuff. The physio team, the medical team, everyone keeps you positive and gets you through it.
“You just want to get back on the field and to get back out there against Cardiff [in November 2020] was an amazing feeling. It reinforces how fortunate you are to play this sport and makes you appreciate the good times even more. You never know when it’ll be your last time you pull the jersey on, because sport can be brutal at times.”
After a seven-year stint that includes a first-ever Guinness PRO12 title, two Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals and countless classic encounters, it’s almost unfair to ask Jones for his favourite Glasgow memories. There’s one weekend that definitely stands out for the winger, however – as a man with a fine pedigree in the abbreviated form of the game, the Warriors’ 2014 Melrose 7s victory holds a special place in the memory.
“That was crazy,” he grinned.
“We went through the squad not long ago actually, and everyone in that squad had experience on the World Rugby 7s Series at one point or another. It was a pretty unique situation and such a brilliant weekend.
“I played a lot of Melrose 7s for my hometown club Selkirk and we’d never quite made it through the knockout stages, so to get the chance to win the tournament was so special. The way we did it was awesome, too – everyone got involved and loved it. All round that was a pretty awesome weekend. Carlin Isles pretty much generated the whole highlights reel of the tournament, it was like he was on double speed!”
For now, though, it’s time for the next challenge for Jones. Whatever that might be, though, one thing is for certain – this adopted Glaswegian will be back at Scotstoun alongside the Warrior Nation in the stands as soon as it’s allowed.
“I’ll take a bit of time to think about what’s next, but I’m still open to any rugby opportunities - I still feel like I’ve got another year or so left in me,” said Jones.
“At the same time I’ll look at my transition out of the game – I studied mechanical engineering at uni back in the day, and I’ve recently been studying on a sports nutrition course as a postgraduate.
“We’ll see what the future holds and it’s exciting to look forward.”