Josh Jones: Exeter Chiefs centre ready to earn rugby union place

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Josh Jones
Exeter's new signing Josh Jones will take his first steps in rugby union with Taunton

Josh Jones's last game as a rugby player was in front of over 17,000 people as St Helens lost to Leeds in the Super League play-off semi-final earlier this month.

His next is likely to come in front of fewer than 500 people against a side like Chinnor, Redruth or Bishops Stortford.

The 22-year-old is the latest man to cross rugby's great divide and swap league for union.

And, while the new Exeter Chiefs centre is hoping to make a splash in the Premiership, he is starting out more humbly on loan at Taunton in National Two South, the fourth tier of English club rugby.

"I just want to play rugby and show what I can do on a rugby union field," the 2014 Grand Final winner from Lancashire told BBC Sport.

"You're still going to get blokes running at you and you're still going to try to run through blokes.

"As a professional rugby player you've just got to block out everything else. You just want to be playing rugby, and if I have to start at Taunton, that's just what I've got to do."

Jones is Exeter's first foray into the world of cross-code converts. But with the recent press surrounding Sam Burgess' inclusion in England's World Cup side, Exeter are ensuring that Jones learns the game before being thrown in at the deep end.

Josh Jones
Played rugby union while a youngster for Preston Grasshoppers
Made 64 appearances for St Helens, scoring 21 tries
Won 2014 Super League Grand Final

"The best thing about Josh is he's got a fantastic attitude and a fantastic desire to work extremely hard and learn everything there is about rugby union," said Exeter head coach Rob Baxter.

"We sat down and told him 'We're going to try to get you to clubs where we think you'll play, clubs that want you, where they want to get you on the field and they want to help you.'

"A club like Taunton's ideal because we know the coaching staff there and they're good guys and they'll definitely help him develop as a rugby player.

"We've got to appreciate that it's not an overnight process. The games of rugby league and rugby union are very different.

"What we'd like to see him do is progress through the levels of rugby union where he's comfortable and he gets the maximum opportunities to learn about rugby union week in, week out."

So what tips has Jones been given about crossing codes? As a youngster he played alongside George Ford, and the England fly-half has given him some advice for the 15-man game.

"He told me to take everything basic, listen to your coaches and everything will be all right," added Jones.

Luke Thompson Josh Jones
Luke Thompson and Josh Jones with the Super League trophy in 2014

"My team-mates laughed at me because they're not big fans of rugby union but, to be fair, I watch it all the time. I'm a big fan, I like watching Sale back up north and I love watching international rugby.

"I'm still young, so why not give it a crack? I like the way Exeter play their rugby, so there's no better place to come than here."

The list of players who have played both codes and thrived is a long one. But will Jones turn out like Chris Ashton or Jason Robinson and have an illustrious career, or will be be more like Leeds Rhinos' Lee Smith or Catalans Dragons' Setaimata Sa and hardly feature after crossing to union?

"I know for a fact he'll work as hard as he can to make it happen," said Baxter.

"Because of that we want to work as hard as we can to help him.

"I've never worked with a guy straight out of rugby league, but I think if anyone's going to help a player be the best he's going to be then the coaching staff here are going to make that happen."

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