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Patient Greg Jones still hoping his hard work pays dividends at Ulster

Greg Jones
Greg Jones

By Michael Sadlier

It's not an easy place to be, so any insight on life as a squad member who isn't a regular starter is sure to be enlightening.

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Greg Jones is all too familiar with not being part of the match-day sides, meaning that every opportunity that comes in his direction simply has to be maximised with an attention-grabbing effort.

Last Friday at Leinster was a case in point. It was only the 23-year-old Dubliner's fourth Ulster appearance this season, now three behind his total from the last campaign, and though he had a storming finish with two tries to his name, the vast bulk of the game had the back-rower and his team-mates very much in reverse.

"I've never played in a game like that," he said of the 54-42 defeat, which resulted in 14 tries being scored and Ulster taking a try bonus point from an encounter which looked as if it might have been a record defeat.

As it happens, he was also in the side which visited the RDS Arena last season but ended up very badly mauled, but back to life on the fringes where the grafting put in during the week is a key factor in the process of progressing.

"When you are on the periphery you are trying to train every week as hard as you can to make sure you are in as good a place as possible for when you actually get a run," he explained.

Most weeks he would provide opposition for the main side and perform other roles to help with the preparation. An important function, but not exactly one to be relished.

"I would be lying to you if I said, 'I want to be the guy who helps get the team ready', no-one gets into professional rugby to be that guy," stated Jones.

"Everyone wants to be in that team that is playing at the weekend and no-one will have any problem telling you that.

"So that is not where you want to be, but it is something that, while you are doing it, you have got to do it to the best of your ability.

"It's been kind of mixed," the former Ireland Under-20s player explained of how he reckons this season, in which he was involved in Ulster's first three games, has gone so far.

"At the start of the season I got a few minutes and I thought I did alright in some games and not so well in other ones.

"But I've just got to keep training hard and performing well."

He mentions the fact that the side which togged out last week for the Dublin defeat may well undergo some change for tomorrow's visit of Connacht which means that, should Marcell Coetzee, Jordi Murphy and Sean Reidy all be back, then the best Jones can probably hope for is a place on the bench.

With one festive Irish derby gone, and resulting in the loss at Leinster, the onus is now very much on winning the next two - Connacht and then Munster - which both happen to be at home.

Indeed, having already lost at Munster in November, Ulster's interprovincial record currently reads played two, lost two. As Jones mentions, performing better against the province's Irish rivals has already been flagged by Dan McFarland and his coaching team.

"That's something we spoke about at the start of the season," he said. "We need to be better in the interpros, that's something we're definitely focusing on.

"These next two games are huge challenges to try and make that right."

There is, of course, the rather important matter of reinforcing second spot in the Guinness PRO14's Conference A by staying ahead of the Cheetahs while also keeping up the chase on leaders Leinster, who are now 12 points in front of McFarland's squad.

Naturally, the table is a priority, but this game with Connacht has some added spice as the westerners were the last side to win at Kingspan Stadium back in October 2018 when they also ended the hoodoo which hadn't seen them win in Belfast since the distant days of 1960.

Throw in the fact that McFarland was once both a player and assistant coach at Connacht and there is much personal pride riding on this one as well.

Jones unsurprisingly revealed: "That has been talked about, that they are the last team to win here. I'd say it's personal for Dan but it's definitely personal for all of us. With them coming here last year and beating us, we certainly want to right that wrong.

"We really want to do well because of that personal thing.

"It's going to take a huge effort but we feel like we can definitely turn them over."

Now he just needs to be part of the action.

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