TRIBUTES are pouring in to Steve Jones, the former Pontypool and Newport rugby star who also went on to coach both teams, who died suddenly in the early hours of Sunday morning at the age of 55.

Jones, who was the current Newbridge coach, was a Gwent rugby icon, widely known and a hugely popular and charismatic figure.

One of the most touching tributes came from Rod Snow, the Canadian rugby international who played against Wales in the World Cup in Nantes on Sunday.

He spent ten years at Rodney Parade with Newport and Newport Gwent Dragons and was taken under his wing by Jones.

"Steve was probably the most influential person in my rugby career and in whatever success I've had," he said. "I spent a lot of time with him and had a lot of respect for him. He was an abrasive character, but had a great heart.

"Nobody opened his heart or home to me more than he did. He had some great antics and we were very close. I'll miss him, I loved the guy."

Top men in the Welsh Rugby Union also spoke volumes for Jones. WRU chairman David Pickering said: "It was a tremendous shock. I played with and against him, he was always very competitive and a real inspiration for Gwent rugby."

Vice chairman Ken Hewitt from Abergavenny said: "This is devastating news for everyone, it's a big shock, he was an inspiration to rugby throughout Gwent."

Newport Gwent Dragons coach Paul Turner added: "We were great mates. He was a man of Gwent, it's a huge shock and this puts everything else into perspective."

Welsh Charitables secretary David Power said that Jones would have played a major role in the planning of the reunion dinner for the 1983 Pontypool cup winning team.

"Steve was such a great character who enjoyed giving his support to our dinners. If you were sat at Steve's table you were guaranteed a night of laughs and friendly banter.

"Steve would help out with supplying players for our charity matches. He was due to play an integral part in the Welsh Charitables RFC planned reunion dinner of the 1983 Pontypool cup winning team next year.

"We send our deepest condolences to his family. The rugby world will be a sadder place without him."

Alun Carter, the former WRU statisitcian who played with Jones, recalled, "Not only was he a great player but encouraged others to improve themselves. He was a dedicated fitness fanatic who pushed himself and those around him to their limits, whether it was in the gym at Pontypool Leisure Centre, sprinting down the side of the Monmoutshire and Brecon canal or trudging the heights of Mynydd Maen and the Grotto above his home town.

"'Junna' led from the front. His enthusiasm was infectious and his sense of purpose on the field greater than anything any opposition had to offer when playing on his own 'blood tump' at Pontypool Park.

'Junna' you were like a big brother to me and looked after me so well from the time we met in 1979 in Eddie Mogford's treatment room. You shall be missed very much."

'He made a huge impression' STEVE Jones had only been at Newbridge for a short time but was already making a huge impression at the Welfare Ground.

Newbridge, who have cancelled their friendly clash with Pontypridd scheduled for Friday, say his absence will leave a huge hole at the club.

"He slotted into the club straight away and even though he had only just arrived it seemed like he had been here for donkey's years," said chairman Idris McCarthy.

"He was a man who demanded high standards of everybody, including himself, and one of the biggest things that struck me since he came to Newbridge was the complete honesty instilled in the players.

"If there were any problems he would sit down and talk them through and he would just get the best out of people.

"People at Newbridge talked about him with great affection from the short time that they had known him because he would take the time to talk to everyone. And he wasn't just concerned with the first team - he was interested in the youth sections and would always offer advice."