The playmaker talks about leading the charge to the Tokyo Olympic Games
WHATEVER ELSE stands out about Megan Jones – and she’s a hell of a player – it’s clear she knows exactly who she is.
“I think that’s from rugby,” the Team GB co-captain says, when it’s put to her. “When we’re talking about leadership qualities, it’s something I’ve learnt, okay. That’s my super strength. That’s really authentic to me. Loving myself allows me to pull from the cup and give people that extra bit. If I don’t look after myself, then I can’t look after the team around me.
“I think that’s really important as sometimes people are apologetic about that. Actually, we should love ourselves unapologetically. It gives freedom to pick people up without any hindrance to yourself.”
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This is what makes the pivot the perfect candidate for the GB women’s leadership group. Five years ago, a teenage Jones was a travelling reserve for Rio 2016 and could only watch on as Team GB crushingly missed out to Canada for a bronze medal. Somewhere between a quality-control coach and a dogsbody, she did her best to help the players in any way, all the while learning by osmosis.
Today, she can influence things as part of a knit of on-field leaders. She explains: “Reading the room is a skill, understanding where the team’s at, and I think it might not come naturally to everybody. You can definitely learn leadership qualities and what I quite like is authenticity. It has to be genuine.
“For example, for me empathy and consoling people isn’t so natural, so I won’t force that bit. What I will force is perspective, motivation, energy. That comes natural; I’m more of a motivator.
“Whereas Abbie Brown, who is our captain as well, she’s more that empathy driver. The consoler. I’m not saying I don’t have a nice heart! But she’s a genuine soul and that’s also leadership in its own right – it’s not necessarily the person who shouts the loudest, it’s the leading by example.
“They are tools you build on throughout your career. You have super strengths but build on them through experience, doing things right, doing things wrong. If you’re forcing the leadership bit that isn’t natural to you, it comes off fake. You have to learn to be the most authentic (version of you), which others can really buy into as well.”
It is all, she suggests, part of the tapestry of team building. Would you be friends if you weren’t a rugby team? Come on, you’re thrown together because you’re good at rugby, so you have to consider the different character traits that come together in a team, as well as the smörgåsbord of different motivations and goals.
Then there is, of course, the rugby. In a rotten year with plans for sevens programmes seemingly printed on loo roll as unions throw away years of building, and with Covid taking the mick out of us all, finally, eventually, a Team GB group could come together and train. No more virtual scheming.
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GB women’s coach Scott Forrest has spoken of the art of finding a style amongst the group, now three nations have come together under one flag. For Jones, it also means blending individuals’ skills – she name-checks standouts in the squad (though notably not herself), including Celia Quansah.
The pair live together and are partners, having spent lockdown cohabiting – a major step. If they feared rugby discussions would consume every chat though, they did not. She describes Quansah as a “safety net around me”.
And when the sevens programme was blown apart and they needed rugby, the pair also ended up at Wasps. Jones loved playing 15s under Giselle Mather, with shows at fly-half earning plaudits. Something she learnt there, Jones says, is that if you back yourself to try something on the field and it crashes and burns, you can try it again. And again.
Sevens is the ultimate test site for an approach like that. Blink and in that time the very good has turned into ‘Oh, they’re gone!’
Maybe it’s about building to something greater. like the Olympic Games in Tokyo. As Jones talks through previous trips to Japan, in Okinawa and significantly with wins for England in Kitakyushu, she adds: “That place holds a sentiment for most of our team and we love the culture in Japan as well. But to be honest, Mount Fuji has become something we’ve been looking at as an analogy.
“It’s about how do we get to that peak, to the top of the mountain? If I could see that in person, that puts it all into perspective, to see what we were really striving for.”
It will be a Games like no other. Jones recalls the ‘school cafeteria’ in Rio, where the group could pull Andy Murray in for a photo and shoot the breeze with sport’s elites. In 2021, that won’t be a goer. But the rugby will be a constant. It’s all about clicking on the pitch.
Whether it whizzes past Fuji or not, you must see what the full journey is about. There’s an enviable calm as Megan Jones lays out all the details.
This feature appeared in Rugby World magazine. Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
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