|Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland|
|Venue: Aviva Stadium Date: Saturday, 1 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio & follow live text on the BBC Sport website & app|
Even the greats occasionally descend into a full blown slump. Brian O’Driscoll, arguably the greatest number 13 international rugby has ever known, suffered his own rut, and can pinpoint the exact moment he snapped out of it.
Ireland were up against Wales in Cardiff in the 2013 Six Nations. O’Driscoll had relinquished the captaincy and his form in the weeks and months before had him questioning whether he would even be named in the starting XV. Then it all changed with one clever, instinctive pass out of the backdoor to set up Simon Zebo for a try.
Huw Jones can relate. The Scotland centre is climbing back up from his own period of pain when his form deserted him.
After taking the longest time to rediscover what makes him one of the game’s deadliest attackers, he points to two particular moments – setting up Ali Price for a Glasgow try against Edinburgh in the first of this season’s 1872 Cup clashes, and crossing the whitewash himself a week later against the same opposition.
“I think I’d been building up to that,” Jones tells BBC Scotland. “I’d been seeing glimpses of what I could do but I hadn’t really put together an 80-minute performance, whether that was because I was getting pulled off after 50 minutes or whether I was on the bench and only getting 20 at the end.
“Those two instances, the build-up to Ali’s try felt good. It wasn’t a line-break but to get in behind the defence with ball in hand and really have a go in attack, that’s when you remember what it feels like.
“Then scoring at Murrayfield the week after, I don’t think I’d scored for a while apart from against Dragons when we lost so it doesn’t count. I love scoring at Murrayfield, it’s a great feeling. To do that felt great and it felt like I was back.”
‘Things didn’t work for me’
Gregor Townsend waited and waited and waited some more for Jones to get back to his best, but with a run of injuries and very little match action or form to hang his hat on, the head coach left his most prolific try-scoring centre at home when naming his squad for the World Cup in Japan.
The fact the omission came as no real surprise was evidence of how far Jones had fallen since exploding on to the international scene with 10 tries in his first 14 Tests.
“It was really tough,” he says of failing to make the cut. “I think anyone that misses out is going to be gutted. Things didn’t really work out for me in 2019 – a couple of injuries and didn’t play a lot of rugby.
“But it gave me an opportunity to get back to Glasgow and try and play a few games. Eventually by December I got the run of games I was after and off the back of that I’ve been brought back into the Scotland squad.”
It’s only in the last couple of months Jones, 26, appears to have earned the trust of Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie. The New Zealander has often been content to allow his talented centre to kick his heels on the bench or even in the stand.
The player himself admits when his try-scoring dried up, it forced him to ask himself what else he should be bringing to his team.
“Dave has pushed me to work on a lot of areas of my game,” he says. “I’ve always been quite confident in myself and backed my ability but I’ve worked on areas that I probably haven’t worked on before.
“One of the main things is my handling under pressure. Nowadays defences are putting a lot more pressure on with a lot more line speed so being able to get the ball in and out of your hands quickly under pressure, especially in the wide channels is important.
“On the defensive side, I think contrary to what many people believe I’ve always been a good defender. I get in good positions and the main issue I’ve had is tackle selection.
“I’ve maybe not stayed in the fight long enough or gone too high and I’ve been working on that. With [new Scotland defence coach] Steve Tandy coming in I really like his defensive system, I feel like it suits me.”
Despite cutting him from his World Cup squad, Townsend has always been a huge fan. Now he has found the spark within himself again, Jones will surely be lining up in Dublin for the Six Nations opener against Ireland with the number 13 jersey back on his back.
When he does, he believes Scotland will have a better version of himself on their hands.
“It’s never ideal to go through a slump in form, but sometimes I think it is probably necessary,” he says. “It made me look at myself and what I can improve rather than riding that wave and not really working on what I should be working on.
“I think I’ve done that and I’ve definitely come out a more rounded player and a better player for it.
“It wasn’t long ago I had maybe given up hope on making the Scotland squad for the Six Nations but I’ve been handed a chance to be in the squad and play as well as I can. I want to take it with both hands.”
Article courtesy of BBC Sport