It was CJ Stander who tweeted last season that despite not being Irish by birth he was proud to be Munster “by the grace of God”
Before the recent Scarlets game we were chatting about the foreign players who have contributed so much to Munster over the years. Players like Jim Williams and Doug Howlett, Shaun Payne and Federico Pucciariello, Rua Tipoki and BJ Botha…. You could come up with a full team of NIQ players over the years, men who adopted the province as their own and did the jersey proud, raising standards along the way and making Munster an attractive proposition for the next generation of players considering a move to a European club.
At the MRSC Q&A in July Paul O’Connell singled out the contribution of players born in Ireland but not in Munster who also adopt the values of the province and indeed drive the standard higher. Paul referred to the “values, drive, attitude and mental strength” of Felix Jones who sadly had to retire from the game this week after six seasons in the red of Munster.
I remember watching Felix play for Ireland A in the Churchill Cup the summer of 2009 before he joined Munster. I still vividly recall marvelling at how in one of those games he soared to claim a high ball, landed and instantly sprinted away showing his superb athleticism. I eagerly looked forward to seeing him play for Munster.
The fact that he played 90 games in 6 years despite suffering significant injuries especially in his first three seasons speaks to his dedication and work ethic to get himself back into the starting 15, especially after the setback of a serious neck injury. After getting a good run of games he was pushing for inclusion in the squad for the 2011 world cup when he suffered an injury in the warm-up game which denied him that experience. After checking his appearance stats on munsterrugby.ie I was not surprised to see that of those 90 appearances, 60 were in the last 3 full seasons. He only had 6, 10 and 11 appearances respectively in his first three seasons at the province when he was dogged by injury but kept coming back for more, eager to play the sport he loves.
We will miss seeing him leap to claim a garryowen, cheering him on as he counter-attacked, charging into the line with his very distinctive running style, looking to dink his way through a gap, fearless of taking the tackle or showing his bravery in the last line of defence as full-back.
Recently I saw another side of Felix when he participated in the rugby wheelchair challenge. It is now on YouTube if you missed it.
I was in Thomond when he captained Munster against Glasgow in October. Little did I think when I saw him go off injured towards the end that it would be his final game. Sport can be very cruel.
On a happier note I was also there when he captained Munster to home and away victories over Leinster last season, one of his personal highlights according to the statement announcing his retirement. Tributes have flooded in from his team mates and supporters. #ThanksFelix. You will be missed.
Thanks to all those players, past present and future, not born in the province, but who play/played with great pride in the jersey, buying into the ethos and values passed on from one generation to the next, willing to put their bodies on the line for the team they represent, showing true “stand up and fight” spirit defending fortress Thomond. That level of commitment can elevate a team to play above the sum of its parts, and there are plenty of role models to look to from amongst those named above and others who have led the way. Go raibh maith agaibh.
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Update January 30, 2016: Anthony Foley praise for Felix in the Examiner: “Jonesey’s ability to do his homework is frightening. He’d know what leg nearly all the opposition would kick off, what was their favourite type of kick. When somebody had the ball he’d already made the assessment of the likelihood of them kicking it. He’d have all that and he’d have himself and his back three set up, their line as well.”