Considering he is a Dubliner from a Leinster background whose career had been blighted by injury from the time he came south in 2009, the reaction in the Munster camp to the enforced retirement of Felix Jones last October may have surprised some.
However, the plaudits arrived thick and fast, led by Paul O’Connell, who declared that “Felix is one of the greatest players who has ever played for Munster”, while he extolled his values of “drive, attitude and mental strength”.
Head coach Anthony Foley observed that “he was a leading example in the way he applied himself through his work rate, commitment and attention to detail.
“For a player to come in, embody everything that is Munster and have such a presence makes him very special. He will be sorely missed on and off the field”.
Fortunately, that was not to be the case, as Jones was invited to join the coaching squad for the coming season, a prospect that fills him with expectation and excitement.
“I will be looking after the attacking fundamentals with the back three players, individual skills and anything else I can help out with,” said Felix, who celebrates his 29th birthday tomorrow.
“I’m going into it with optimism, but also with a sense of realism.
“I’m aware of how much work it is going to require for me to give to it and also the players and the coaching team.”
Jones is fully aware of the disillusionment of many Munster fans caused by a series of dismal performances on home turf last season, leading to large swathes of empty space at Thomond Park, and he knows a repeat could have dire consequences for the game in the province.
“We have a massive challenge ahead, but I am much encouraged by the way the players were able to stand up when their backs were to the wall last season and deliver when there was white hot heat and huge pressure on them,” says Munster’s new technical coach.
“Now, this year we have been drawn in a group with Racing, Leicester, and Glasgow, all teams that know us well, and that represents some challenge.
“Why should we be any better than last year? Well, when you think of the individuals we lost, Paul O’Connell, prior to that Damien Varley and Donncha O’Callaghan, a lot of senior players... by the end of the season, a lot of guys were required to step up and I think they did so and that was very encouraging.
“Now, we are about to have this one centre in Limerick. We’ve got a good few young guys coming through.
“Anyone who saw the Irish under-20s, there were some good performances from the Munster contingent and plenty other positive things to be excited about, especially the new coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, both of whom have come in with proven track records.
“Their arrival has certainly caused a buzz and a sense of anticipation in everyone.
“It’s pre-season, there’s a clean slate for everyone and great competition. We really needed that, but the games that are only just around the corner will be the proof of where we stand.”
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