GREG GROWDEN June 15, 2012
Hair Bear ... Welsh prop Adam Jones in action. Once told he was too fat to play top-level rugby, he has since notched 81 Test caps for his country. Photo: Getty Images
IT IS his wild, black, shaggy hair that gets all the attention. But the fact Welsh prop Adam Jones can actually scrummage and make an impact has as much to do with him being one of the most popular players in the international arena.
He has fans everywhere, one of the most notable being the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, another with a wacky hairstyle, who recently wrote of him: ''Adam plays rugby with fire in the belly, steel in his spine and that mad mop of hair on his head.''
He is Johnson's favourite player, hailing him as the ''Cro-Magnon man'' - as in from another age.
And there's so much more to Adam Rhys Jones. A few weeks ago, the tight-head prop spoke out publicly in Wales against domestic violence. He has had his weight issues, and former Wales coach and now All Blacks boss Steve Hansen hinted he was too fat some years ago, prompting the front-rower to cut back on fast food, chocolate and beer.
Now the man who has his own website can boast 81 Test caps, 10 years at the top, and three grand-slam triumphs.
During the week, ''Hair Bear'' flicked back the locks, confronted the media, answered queries while eating lollies and doodling on a notepad. The doodles included houses, little boxes and something resembling spider webs. A psychiatrist would probably be able to provide clues to all that.
It was soon obvious his secret is to keep it all relatively light and frothy. The self-deprecating humour was ever present, especially when asked what happened when Wallabies halfback Will Genia snuck through to score in Brisbane after Jones and another Welshman went for the decoy attacker, Digby Ioane. ''That try was a bit of a mess up in our defence. We picked the wrong man,'' he said.
Was it you who was supposed to be marking Genia or Ioane?
''I was supposed to stand there looking busy. Someone else was supposed to be tackling Genia, and I'm sticking to that. He wasn't my man, but I'm not putting any blame on anyone else. And it definitely wasn't my fault.''
Rhys Jones said it all with a huge grin. Then he stressed how he hoped the unpredictable Melbourne weather would turn and rain would arrive. They had watched how Scotland exposed the Wallabies during a Novocastrian hurricane, and wanted something as treacherous. Then he was told it wouldn't matter anyway because the Test venue - Etihad Stadium - had a roof.
''Oh well. That's me just being a bit old. If we could have a game in a little 10-metre circle where we played pick and gos all the time it would be great, rather than having these Aussie guys running us over the place. You guys throw the ball around far too much. It's hard work.''
He even had a sympathetic word for an opponent - Wallabies prop Ben Alexander, who has recently been flitting between loose- and tight-head prop. ''Tight-head is the hardest position to play because there's so much pressure on you. It's not something you can pick up overnight. I'm sure Ben Alexander hasn't been as dominant as he had, since he moved over. He's had to learn. He's had hidings. But he will become a good [tight-head prop] because he's a good player. I hope they give him a chance … when I'm retired.''
And what would get Wales back on track in the second Test? ''We haven't done much talking. We're too knackered from the last game.''
Doodling over, Adam Jones and his shock of hair were off.