TOMORROW night in the north of England will be an emotional time for one rugby man of Gwent – though he will be on the ‘other’ side.
For Sale director of rugby and former coach Kingsley Jones the LV Cup game against Newport Gwent Dragons will be his farewell to the club where he has spent the last seven years.
He’s known he would be departing for a while – his highlight being taking the team to the Premiership title – and it was deliberately planned that his last game would be against his ‘home’ region.
Jones, of course, captained Ebbw Vale for four years, virtually coaching the team as well, and he also played for Cross Keys and Pontypridd before making his way across Offah’s Dyke.
He made a success of it in England as well, first as player-coach with Doncaster, then coaching at Gloucester where he formed a Gallic alliance with Frenchman Philippe Saint Andre which carried on when the pair moved on to Sale.
That ended when Saint-Andre returned to his native France with big spending Toulon, and Jones’ star has been on the wane since.
“When I sat down with Brian (Kennedy, the Sale owner) and the board we thought it was right to put myself out there because it’s too late to say I am available in May,” he said.
“I looked at the fixture list and said there was no better game than the one against the Dragons, my home region, for me to leave.
“It’s always nice to see familiar faces, but it’ll be a tough game even though both sides have been disrupted. The LV Cup is an important tournament for us and it’s a chance to salvage something,” he added. “The winners of the tournament, if it’s an English team, qualify for the Heineken Cup so hopefully it’ll be a semi-final then a final for us.
“Since the Brive debacle we’ve kicked on with six points out of eight in the Premiership, so we aim to kick on and have a go at this with its Heineken qualification.”
Jones admits it’s been difficult in the past two years at Sale with a smaller squad, but he will spend the next month or two looking at his options.
He could return to Wales depending on what is available, he could join up with Saint-Andre again or he could even go to Russia to take charge of the game there, especially as Steve Diamond, who was doing the job there, has now returned to Sale himself.
“Seven years in March is a long time in anyone’s life and there are not many people around who have been that long in Premiership rugby in England,” he said.
“I’ll see what’s available, what’s out there until the end of Febraury. A lot of people know I’m available and I’m very open minded about going to France or Russia, anywhere.
“It’s an opportunity to try different things, I still want success and I still want to win things. I found it difficult in the last two years with a small squad, it’s great when you are winning but it’s the toughest job in the world when you’re losing.”
A special presentation is being made to Jones in the Sale clubhouse tomorrow night when Dragons coach Paul Turner will also sing his praises. “It will add extra spice to the game, Kingsley has done really well,” said Turnetr.
Win or lose, the cheers and applause will ring out loud and long around Edgeley Park.