All Jason Jones-Hughes wanted to do was play rugby. And when he did, Jones-Hughes was very good. Australian U16s, Australian Schoolboys, Australian U19s, Australian U21s, Waratah and - just six weeks after this 21st birthday - Wallaby. Despite a high profile tussle for his services, one that saw him leave to play international rugby for Wales, and persistent injuries that ultimately forced him into retirement aged just 27, Jones-Hughes considered himself very fortunate to have both played for as long as he did and to have achieved consistent representative recognition at all levels along the way.
Born and bred in Sydney, Jones-Hughes - a tall, long striding outside centre - played his early rugby with the Clovelly Sea Eagles and later the Coogee Seahorses. After he won selection for the Australian U16s out of Randwick North School, Jones-Hughes was offered a place at Sydney Boys High School, alma mater to great Wallabies of bygone eras including Stan Wickham, Keith Cross, John Thornett, Peter Johnson and John Brass. Under the guidance of Tony Hannon, Jones-Hughes played three years in the 1st XV and from there was picked in the 1994 Australian schools' side alongside fellow future Wallabies Mark Bartholomeusz, Tom Bowman, Manuel Edmonds, Elton Flatley and Sean Hardman.
Upon his return home Jones-Hughes joined Randwick and was a member of the first grade colts side which won the premiership. Toward the end of that season Jones-Hughes’ realised something was definitely not right with his back. The diagnosis was Ankylosing Spondylitis, an inflammatory disease affecting the bones in the spine, and it cost him 14 months away from the game. To know those details only made his 1997 comeback year all the more remarkable - a first grade debut for Randwick, an undefeated U21 campaign, a debut for New South Wales and finally Wallaby selection for the tour to Argentina. Not surprisingly Jones-Hughes meteoric rise attracted interest from overseas, notably the Cardiff club in Wales, the birthland of his father Robert. Jones-Hughes was offered a six month contract which covered the European Cup campaign however he decided to remain in Australia when he signed a two-year deal with the Waratahs. Unfortunately opportunities at the national level failed to materialise in 1998 as Australia swept New Zealand 3-0 in a Bledisloe Cup series for the first time where Tim Horan, Jason Little, Joe Roff, Ben Tune, Daniel Herbert and Nathan Grey starred across the three-quarter line.
During that year Jones-Hughes played in a far less high profile match that was to become a focal point of significant dispute for more than 12 months. On June 9th, Jones-Hughes ran out for the Australian Barbarians against the touring Scotland side at Penrith. Little did he know that early the previous year the ARU and the Australian Barbarians had agreed that the Barbarians would take over the role previously played by Australia ‘A’ and the Emerging Wallabies. The Barbarians thus became Australia’s 2nd XV or development team, selected by the Australian national selectors.
In 1999 Wales came calling again. This time it was national coach Graham Henry who offered a lucrative five-year contract term. Jones-Hughes, with his strong Welsh heritage and obvious eligibility, accepted the deal. “This was an extremely difficult decision, which I made after careful consideration and after lengthy discussions with my family," Jones-Hughes said. “I believe I am eligible to represent Wales and I have informed the Australian Rugby Union and the New South Wales Rugby Union of my intention to make myself available for selection for the Welsh World Cup squad." Henry then proceeded to name Jones-Hughes in his provisional squad for the RWC. Those two decisions kicked off a storm of protest from Australia, with whom Jones-Hughes remained contracted. ARU CEO John O’Neill said he sympathised with Jones-Hughes but stressed that the 22-year-old was very much a part of the Wallabies’ future plans. While that may have been the case it conveniently ignored the fact that Jones-Hughes was not named in a single match day squad for any of the 13 Wallaby tests played in 1998.
In early July the International Rugby Board ruled that Jones-Hughes ”will not be able to accept an invitation from Wales to become a member of the Welsh squad for Rugby World Cup 1999. Under IRB Regulations, a player who has played for the senior team or the next senior team of one Union is not eligible to play for the senior or next senior team of another Union unless he has fulfilled residence requirements, which do not apply in this case.” Oddly the fact that Jones-Hughes had already achieved Wallaby status, when he played for Australia, albeit in an uncapped match, against Rosario (October, 1997), was not presented in evidence. “Australia's stance is absolutely ridiculous," Henry said. "Jason is in limbo because of a whim of rugby administrators who are too old to play themselves. If what Australia are doing is constitutional, then the constitution needs to change. There is no good reason why anyone should stand in the way of a player who has the chance of appearing in the World Cup. It is absolutely ridiculous.” Wales ultimately appealed the decision and in something of a surprise the IRB reversed their original stance and permitted Jones-Hughes to switch allegiances.
He debuted off the bench in the tournament’s opening match against Argentina but missed out on a potential clash with Australia when Henry opted for Allan Bateman as his outside back replacement cover. The following year Jones-Hughes played in the Six Nations however in the final game of the season, he ruptured ankle ligaments and missed the Welsh tour to Japan. Upon his return to rugby, with the Newport club, Jones-Hughes ruptured the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Swansea and rehabilitation took six months. Worse was to come on the injury front. With the first touch of the ball in his very next match, Jones-Hughes again damaged the same PCL. This time the rehab took the best part of two years.
In 2003 he joined Munster however a succession of soft tissue tears and lower back flare-ups, alongside the daily side effects of his Ankylosing Spondylitis, combined to force Jones-Hughes into reluctant retirement at 27 years of age.
Jason Jones-Hughes played three Tests for Wales but he was and always will be a Wallaby following that 1997 match against Rosario.
Represented Australian U16s against New Zealand
Represented Australian Schools against Wales Schools, Ireland Schools, Scotland Schools and England Schools
Represented Australian U19s
Represented Australian U21s. Selected on the Argentina leg of the Wallabies’ Spring Tour where he debuted off the bench in the uncapped, 29-18 victory over Rosario.
Jones-Hughes won his first Test cap for Wales when he replaced Scott Gibbs at centre in the 23-18 opening pool round victory over Argentina at Millenium Stadium. He picked up a second cap, and his first in the starting XV, on the right wing in the 64-15 pool match win against Japan in Cardiff. Jones-Hughes was then denied the opportunity to face Australia in the quarter-final when Graham Henry opted for Allan Bateman as the lone replacement three-quarter.
Jones-Hughes earned his third and final cap at inside centre in the 3-36 loss to 1999 Rugby World Cup finalists France.