MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Returned Melbourne Rebel and Wallabies aspirant Luke Jones learnt plenty in his two-and-a-half years of French rugby and his line-out skills could be a ‘point of difference’ in the new Super Rugby season, coach Dave Wessels.
The 27-year-old, who played six seasons with the Rebels and one with the now defunct Western Force, has returned to Melbourne in search of a spot in Michael Cheika’s World Cup squad, more than four years on from the last of his three Wallabies appearances in 2014.
Wessels has slotted Jones straight back into the side with locking partner Matt Philip for the season-opener against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra on Friday and said he was impressed with the former Bordeaux player’s pre-season.
“It’s great to see someone like ‘Jonesy’ return to the club,” Wessels told reporters at training on Wednesday. “We had a function the other day and he was sort of the star of the show, with all of the fans and things because he obviously made a huge impression on people when he was here previously.
“He’s definitely made an impression on his start here. He’s got an incredible work rate, he’s the sort of lock who is going to make 20 tackles a game, which is really impressive.
“But he’s also worked really hard around his set-piece, that’s a part of his game that probably improved a lot in Europe.
“And it’s just a requirement if you’re playing in those conditions that you get good at that kind of stuff.
“His line-out, I think, is going to be a real point of difference for us this year — in both attack and defence.”
Jones is one of a number of high-profile recruits at the Rebels, who now boast a roster laden with Wallabies and are expected to break their playoffs duck in their eighth season since joining the competition.
Wessels is keen to see what the new signings can do, naming discarded Queensland pivot Quade Cooper at flyhalf to pair with his old halves partner Will Genia, the combination that won the Reds their maiden title way in 2011.
Highly regarded loose forward Isi Naisarani, who is expected to push for a Wallabies spot when the Fiji-born 23-year-old becomes eligible in April, will start at number eight in a strong back row featuring openside flanker Richard Hardwick and blindside Angus Cottrell.
The Rebels will be without two injured Wallabies in inside centre Reece Hodge and lock Adam Coleman but Wessels said his side had more than enough quality to cover for them.
“They all deserve to be there. (We’re) pretty proud of the development they’ve had over the last couple of months,” he said.
Reporting by Ian Ransom, Editing by Peter Rutherford