Old Aylesburian of the week returns after an extended half-term break, we hope that you managed to get by without last week’s fix. This week’s O.A is Sam Jones (Philips, 04-10), a rugby player for Wasps with a huge future in the game. He’s represented England at Under 20 level, played for the Barbarians against the British Lions earlier this year, has captained Wasps and was named as the club’s Young Player of the Year ahead of others with senior England caps. As if that’s not enough, he’s also balancing his rugby career with a full-time English degree at King’s College London. He took time out of that busy schedule to talk about his time at AGS and, of course, rugby.
What are your memories of the school?
My memories are extremely fond ones. I enjoyed my school days immensely, and think AGS prepared me well for adult life in the real world! Most of my memories involve the great bunch of boys at the school and the tight knit friendship groups that formed.
There was the perfect balance of excellent education, sporting success and social freedom that made for a thoroughly enjoyable 7 years. Particular memories that stand out for me are the numerous trips and tours abroad, the friendly relationships between teachers and pupils, and of course, the 1st XV victory over RGS in my final year.
What kind of pupil were you?
I lived life on the edge I think! I tended to work hard when it really mattered and coasted in between times, doing just enough to get by. This approach seemed to keep me out of trouble most of the time. I’d like to think I was a decent pupil to teach.
Did you have any favourite teachers?
I got on well with the sixth form leadership team at the time – Miss Treherne, Mrs Venning and Rambo. They were all good fun, big supporters of the rugby team and treated us like adults rather than pupils making for a relaxed atmosphere around the common room.
Mrs Andrews deserved a medal after surviving 7 years as our form tutor. She was a great teacher, passionate about her subject and invested so many extra hours in helping us through our school years.
How do you feel that your time at the school has influenced your career since?
Quite simply, it introduced me to rugby! I had never played a game of rugby until I came to AGS and being quite a big lad for my age it seemed to come to me quite easily. It was in year 7 that Mr Dean put me forward to the Wasps junior academy and that’s where the process began. Playing regularly at a good standard at AGS really allowed my playing ability to improve and my enjoyment of the game to grow. Our unbeaten season in year 13 and win over RGS rank as some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had playing rugby.
I was lucky enough to hold a few leadership roles during my time at the school and I think this helped me to develop skills that have since been recognised by Wasps as I have been fortunate to captain both first and second teams.
Did you ever imagine that you would be in the position that you’re now in while you were at school?
If I’m honest, not really. I always wanted to go to a proper university town and enjoy the full student experience along with all my mates. It was tough balancing A-levels and rugby, but schoolwork always took priority at important times. I carried on with rugby primarily to have fun, but with no major goal in mind. I was just seeing how far I could take it.
When I got offered a full-time contract I was unsure whether to go ahead with it, but knew I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a go for at least a year. The first season was extremely hard work but it went well and that’s when I realized that I potentially had a future in the game. Since then I have had a few lucky breaks and have ended up playing a lot more than I ever expected.
What has motivated you to continue with academic studies alongside rugby, and how do you manage to maintain both?
I think I felt the need to study alongside playing purely in preparation for after rugby. Although it seems a long way off, a decent rugby career will take you to around 32 leaving plenty of working years ahead of you. Unfortunately, unlike footballers, most are unable to retire and have to find work to keep earning. Gaining a degree now will mean hopefully I won’t have to worry when trying to find a job after rugby. There is also the threat of injury that could cut a career short and I guess a degree is a good thing to fall back on.
As a professional rugby player you have a surprising amount of free time and although scheduling often makes it difficult to make it into classes, there is plenty of time to read and get coursework done around training hours.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Starting for the Barbarians against the Lions this summer in Hong Kong. It was a huge surprise to be a part of the tour, let alone start the game alongside and against the best players in the world.
You’re part of an exciting crop of young players at Wasps, how is it that so many of you are coming through at around the same time?
Over the last couple of years Wasps have struggled with a small squad and lots of injuries. Therefore, myself and the younger guys have had to step up in order to fill the places of the injured players. I think the continued exposure to top-level rugby has brought our playing ability on no end and has given us the experience to hold our own amongst the senior guys.
It is exciting as a lot of us have grown up playing together and many of us have committed our futures to the club for at least the next couple of years.
What are your goals for the near future?
To nail down a starting position at Wasps within a very competitive back row and keep performing well. It would be great to help the team get back to former glories and push for titles once again. I would like to get my degree done and dusted and then perhaps use what I have learnt to take on some journalistic responsibilities and get some written work published alongside my rugby.
To keep up to date with Sam’s career, follow him on Twitter @sf_jones