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The Ice Man - Part Two

by SuperUser Account on Sunday, April 15, 2018 1:11 PM
Rugby Player Recruitment A seemingly meek and mild twenty year old Michael Jones suddenly found himself immersed in a hard drinking, old school rugby environment, surrounded by senior All Blacks who could be as ruthless off the field as they were on it.

“What people don’t realise about Michael is that there are two sides to him” laughs former Auckland Blues and Manu Samoa lock Leo Lafaiali’i. He is a lovely man, softly spoken and humble. But he could flick a switch before kick-off and trainings. I’d known Michael my whole life, our families go way back. But when Michael flicked that switch… he changed.”

“You know guys like Eroni Clarke, Andrew Blowers I would be having prayers with Michael the night before a game, but the next day in the sheds before kick-off, I often wondered, is this the same guy?” Rugby Player Recruitment “The word mongrel speaks to mind…. in the nicest possible sense. People thought Zinzan Brooke was competitive, well he didn’t have anything on Michael. He had to win, even when we played board games I could see things turning ugly” chuckles Lafaiali’i.

Jones preferred to let his actions speak for himself both on and off the field. He instantly gained the respect from his highly vaunted Auckland teammates for both his moral judgement and astonishing playing ability. He could always be trusted to do the right thing, there is no rugby agent would ever worry about his off field behaviour.

Jones decision not to play on Sundays was a stance he refused to wavier on. “I know for Michael Sundays are always a day of rest and worship, while our great friend Eroni Clarke was happy to play on Sundays. He saw it as an opportunity to honour the gift God had given him. Both decisions were personal and equally as valid.”

Prior to Michael Jones arrival at first class level the traditional New Zealand tackling adage had been “to go low, round the legs” Suddenly the rib cage became the new target area. “Michael played a lot of league when he was a kid, that’s where his tackling came from.” As a boy Jones would regularly head down to the Ranui Domain to watch his Uncles play league for the Waitemata Seagulls.

A little-known fact is that Jones would also return to his home village of Moataa in Samoa during his early teens and play senior rugby. “I tell you what, if you can handle Samoan village rugby you can handle anyone bro” laughs Lafaiali’i.

“On the field Michael just wasn’t afraid of anyone. When we played Super 12 in South Africa the sledging and intimidation was pretty raw at times. Michael would put in these huge hits one after the other, you could hear the wind expelling out of ball carriers lungs… and those ribs cracking.”

Lafaiali’i still recalls one evening in Johannesburg where the Blues were getting beaten up both on the scoreboard and out on the field. “Michael singlehandedly won us the game with his tackling. Guys like Fitzy and the Brookes were in awe of him. It was such a miracle even Graham Henry came to church with us the next day! Rugby Player Recruitment The Ica Mans mental toughness and pain threshold was stuff of legend. During the 1999 NPC final, his last first class game, prop Kevin Yates stomped on Jones opening up a deep gash on his arm. “Michael refused to leave the field. After the game we had to wait for two hours while he had the wound flushed out, packed up and closed with around twenty stitches inserted.” Late in the second half Yates felt the full force of a perfectly timed collision with Jones.

The emphasis Jones devoted towards physical conditioning was ahead of his time. “He could keep running and tackling at full pace until after that final whistle. I’d hate to think what state his body is in now” ponders Lafaiali’i. ”While coaching the Samoa side I was a member of, Michael was still having to get his knees drained whenever we travelled overseas.”

Jones phenomenal athletic ability enabled him to start test matches for the All Blacks against major rivals in all three loose forward positions. A select few players can lay claim to that feat. Before his horrific knee injury in 1989 the spring heeled Jones was a legitimate lineout option at test level. As the inhumane punishment his body endured began to take its toll (including a second knee reconstruction and a broken jaw), Jones transformed himself to become the world’s premier blindside flanker.

His legendary pace and agility had deserted him replaced by a granite like physique. “He still had great timing, and amazing ball skills, but was now this human block of granite who could cut the biggest players in world rugby in half.”

Michael Jones mentoring and leadership off the field had a huge effect on the younger chargers he played alongside. Jones occupied a place on the backseat of the All Black bus, he was a born leader. A man of integrity he refused to let teams values be compromised in anyway shape or form. “I do see a lot of Michael in the way Keven Mealamu has carried himself as a senior All Black.” I would be interested to hear what Kevvy has to say about that” ponders Lafaiali’i.

“I learnt to respect the jersey because of the way Michael conducted himself in it. And how he carried himself off the field as well” reveals Keven Mealamu, a veteran of 133 test matches in the black jersey.

“What stood out for me were his awesome values, his mana.” As an eight-year-old the Tokoroa born Mealamu vividly remembers watching Jones play during the 1987 World Cup. “And when I first made the Auckland team in 1999, I found myself in the same team as Michael” the veteran hooker laughs. “It meant so much to me to find that off the field he was a man with values and principles. He was everything I thought he would be. That just made me respect him even more.” Rugby Player Recruitment “Michael set really high standards as a player. Nothing less was ever accepted. As a player he was just incredible, to have those two knee surgeries, yet still be able to adapt and completely change his game.”

For this generation of Polynesian people living both in New Zealand and the Islands Michael Jones is a trailblazer. “I think Michael really opened our eyes to the possibilities” reflects Mealamu. “He gave us both inspiration and confidence.” A generation of Polynesian players have subsequently followed the example Jones set to dominate at the highest levels of the game.

Furthermore, the humility, grace and strength of character Michael Jones displayed throughout his magnificent career has been an immense source of pride not only for all Pacific people but made New Zealand a far more inclusive and accepting society as a whole. While Jones was a phenomenal athlete, he was first and foremost a man of conviction, faith and integrity.

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