Few props in world rugby can command the biggest salaries on offer. Carl Hayman set the precedent by joining Toulon from Newcastle on a £350,000 a year deal back in 2009. Gurthrö Steenkamp moved to Toulouse at the start of this season for another six figure sum. When you consider the world’s greatest props, Adam Jones without doubt ranks alongside those two stars.
Now 30 and with his contract with the Ospreys set to expire at the end of the season, Jones faces the decision that many Welshmen seem to have debated over the last year. With Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips and James Hook all in their first seasons at Clermont, Bayonne and Perpignan respectively, Luke Charteris and now Jones are the next Welsh stars to be linked with moves across the channel. And to be honest, who could blame them for going?
Playing in France, Welsh internationals have the chance to potentially double their annual salary with their province. James Hook currently earns £500,000 a season for Perpignan, who this season are not even in the Heineken Cup and languishing near the bottom of the Top 14 in 12th place after 8 defeats this season. The Catalan giants have reportedly made a similar three year offer to Gethin Jenkins, Jones’ fellow Lions and Wales prop, to join them next season. Financially, it is remarkable money.
For Jones however, there is the incentive to not just earn the big money in France, but also taste success. With Stade Toulousain apparently the frontrunners for his signature according to The Rugby Paper, the four time Heineken Cup winners would have the choice of either Jones or Census Johnston at tighthead, with Steenkamp and Jean-Baptiste Roux on the other side. The quality there is sickening. Jones would be guaranteed to at least reach either the Top 14 of Heineken Cup semi-finals. Combine that trophy incentive with the quality of life in the South of France, not to mention the food and wine, and you have a fantastic opportunity.
There is one snag though. Warren Gatland’s stance on selecting Welsh players who play abroad is relatively strict, hence the need for negotiations to ensure that not a single training session is missed. This was key to Mike Phillips move to Bayonne, where he agreed with the previous coaching regime that he would be released for all training sessions, even those outside of the stipulated IRB timeframe.
Where Jones has the advantage however, is that tighthead prop is not an area where Wales have exceptional strength in depth. Scott Andrews is still learning his trade at the highest level, whilst Craig Mitchell effectively held on to Jones’ shirt during last year’s Six Nations before making way, only featuring once during the Rugby World Cup. He is one of a few world class talents that Wales have at their disposal, and they will need him to win their biggest games.
It may not be what fans of Welsh rugby want to hear, but a level of empathy is required. Jones has been at the Ospreys since the age of 17. With over a decade’s worth of service for his region now under his belt, and his next contract potentially his last big money deal, it is hard to begrudge him a sojourn in France.
by Ben Coles
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images