Chris Jones-Griffiths began the season enjoying the relatively sedate environment of Gulf veterans rugby. He ended it by extending his status as the UAE’s most-capped rugby international ever, at the age of 38.
The North Walian retired from top-tier UAE rugby following his adopted nation’s Asia Rugby Championship Division I campaign in Malaysia two years ago – also claiming he would step away from first-team rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who he has now been with for over a decade.
But, he answered the call to come out of semi-retirement in 2017/18 and, in 2018/19, discovered walking away from the game he loves wasn’t so easy as he thought.
He came out of retirement – temporarily – yet again, but instead played a whole season. It paid dividends as Quins returned to prominence, lifting the UAE Premiership to close out the domestic season – beating Jebel Ali Dragons 37-27. Then, he got the call to join Apollo Perelini’s UAE squad for the ARC Division II campaign in Thailand.
Jones-Griffiths scored in the 82-7 rout of Guam before also starting against the host nation in Hua Hin on Saturday as the UAE earned another handsome win to earn promotion.
Jones-Griffiths extended his own record of UAE caps to 27, but says this is now the final chapter in his storied rugby career. We’re heard that before though, haven’t we?
“I’m so happy to be involved with a great bunch of lads that has set the foundations for future success for UAE rugby,” said the prop, who first earned international recognition for his adopted nation in 2011 when he attended trials and made Bruce Birtwistle’s Asian Five Nations squad.
“For myself I just wish I was 10 years younger as this is a special group of players. Unfortunately for me, my time has come to an end and I can look back on my time with pride at what I’ve achieved. I’m sure, given the talent in the squad, they can go on and be successful in Division I.”
Twenty seven caps, three tries and two yellow cards during eight years pulling on the falcon-emblazoned green, white, red and black jersey. Jones-Griffiths may not have enjoyed such a richly random international career in the Middle East had he been honest with selectors back in 2011.
A career back-row forward, he lied and told coaches at those trials he was a prop as he thought he had a better shot at making the squad in the front row.
He worked hard to adapt his game and thrived, becoming a mobile, ball-carrying front row. ‘Mr Versatility’ has since gone on to slot in consistent performances, even reliable enough to come in and hold down a starting spot at Quins this season approaching his 40s, putting his hand up when perhaps others would have stayed at home on the sofa.
“I did a favour for Mike (McFarlane, Quins head coach who departed midway through the season) as he said he had some front row cover coming in,” said Griffiths.
“It didn’t happen and I ended up playing the full season. My body felt good and felt I was told I was well enough so I made myself available (for the UAE).”
He was Perelini’s first pick for the Guam and Thailand games in two easy wins. After crushing Guam in their semi-final clash on Wednesday, they sauntered to a 50-12 triumph over Thailand on Saturday, clambering back into Division I after they were relegated a year ago when the UAE Rugby Federation decided not to send a team to the 2018 ARC.
The UAE were home and dry by half-time as they led 45-0. Thailand responded, winning the second half 12-7, but the job had been done in the first 40 minutes by arguably the strongest UAE side in the nation’s fledgling existence.
“It was a great game,” added Jones-Griffiths. “We stuck to our structures and backed our game plan. It was difficult to approach the second half given the lead we built but we played in the right areas and got over the line.”
So, has the final page of this riveting read really been turned? Stay tuned.
Know more about Sport360 Application