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'My dad had me out on the back field at home practising tackling with him'

Ireland hooker Neve Jones relishes the physical aspect of the game.

Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

IT’S HARD TO miss the sheer glee that Neve Jones takes in tackling ball-carriers who are sometimes bigger and heavier than her.

The Ireland hooker packs a serious punch with her 73kg frame and she has hammered into 35 tackles in her side’s two Six Nations games so far, landing several dominant shots among them and missing zero.

Add in Jones’ threat at the breakdown, where she is encouraged to jackal by Ireland’s coaches, and her physical impact around the pitch has been impressive.

The 23-year-old Antrim woman has been playing her club rugby over in England with Gloucester-Hartpury since the turn of the year and while that has helped to progress her game, the appetite for contact goes further back than that.

“It backtracks to when I was a kid,” explains Jones, who was the All-Ireland League Rising Star of the season back in 2020.

“I was the only girl with the boys in mini rugby. My dad had me out on the back field at home practising tackling with him and then just as the game progresses, tackling is a big part of the game and I like a challenge.

“Playing in the Premiership, the girls play at that level week in, week out and I’ve learned so much about being smarter around the jackal and the tackle. I’m constantly learning and growing as a player.”

Jones is, of course, a key part of Ireland’s set-piece and that has gone poorly for the team in the opening two games of the Six Nations, most obviously last weekend when the lineout and scrum disintegrated against France.

The set-piece is a collective aspect of the game and Jones is part of a front row that features one change for tomorrow’s Round 3 clash with Italy, with head coach Greg McWilliams bringing Christy Haney in for Katie O’Dwyer at tighthead.

Ireland’s pack will need to deliver much better if the talented backline is to fully fire.

neve-jones Jones and the Irish pack will be fired up tomorrow. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“There’s a lot of strong characters in the squad and they’re very good at pulling players together and building that cohesion,” says Jones.

“Yes, we’d a tough game last week but we put our heads down again this week and worked on a few things and re-grouped as a team. We can’t wait to get back onto the field and put that into practice.”

Jones previously worked as a female participation officer with Ulster Rugby and still does some coaching over in England, although she’s combining a new part-time gig with her rugby over in Gloucester.

Having been with Malone here in Ireland, the switch to England was one she made in a bid to get better as a player.

“I just moved over to Gloucester at the start of the year, I’m absolutely loving the environment and thriving in it,” she says.

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“It’s like I’ve been there my whole life and the coaching is fantastic, I love it.

“We’re training and gyming three times a week as a squad and I’m getting experience from the likes of Kelsey Jones [a Wales international] and Connie Powell [an England player], working with those kinds of hookers every week, trying to improve bits of my game.

“And I’m just doing some nanny work over there. I love that, getting to look after a little boy every week and then getting to train, it’s just fantastic.”

But her life in England is at the back of Jones’ mind right now as he looks to help Ireland notch their first victory of the championship tomorrow against the Italians in Cork.

There is pressure on McWilliams’ side to get back to winning ways and Jones welcomes it.

“Pressure is a privilege, you take that when you put on the green jersey.

“We’re happy to pull on the jersey anywhere and go out and perform, smash some players hopefully.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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