Jones remained confident about Wales return
PA Sport
June 2, 2008

Dafydd Jones insists his self-belief remained intact during a frustrating two-year Welsh exile that concludes against South Africa on Saturday.

Jones won the last of his 29 caps against France in 2006 before a succession of serious injuries and loss of form struck, leaving him marginalised.

It was a cruel turn of events for the 28-year-old Llanelli Scarlet to accept given he had been an ever-present in Wales' back row during 2003 and 2004.

Watching this season's Grand Slam celebrations from the outside - he also played a minimal part in the 2005 RBS 6 Nations clean sweep under Mike Ruddock - only heightened his torment.

Just last year he was struggling to start for Llanelli but a strong second half of the season, combined with injuries to several rivals, have given him a chance he is determined to take.

''It's surprising how quickly things have changed. I wasn't in the Six Nations but here I am starting Saturday's Test,'' he said.

''It's been a while since I last played for Wales but there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I've worked very hard.

''At Llanelli we haven't had the best of years but on a personal note towards the end of the season I felt comfortable, was happy with my form and enjoyed my rugby.

''It's been one of the those seasons where you didn't want it to end.

''Things haven't always gone my way on the pitch but I've always believed in myself.''

Once the Grand Slam festivities subsided and minds turned to the eagerly-awaited summer tour to South Africa, few would have predicted Jones' occupancy of the number seven jersey.

Injuries to Martyn Williams, Robin Sowden-Taylor and Ben Lewis left coach Warren Gatland with a conundrum at openside that Jonathan Thomas looked set to answer.

Gareth Delve was also a possible solution but the Gloucester forward has been forced to settle for a place on the bench after Gatland became impressed with Jones' efforts in training.

''It was awesome to watch the Six Nations from the outside and now that I'm in the squad it doesn't surprise me what Wales achieved,'' said Jones.

''When you're not part of the squad you wish all the boys the best but there's a part of you that wishes you were there too. That feeling drives you.

''Sometimes I tried to make things happen and they didn't. I felt like I didn't have much opportunity.''

The loss of Williams was a significant blow to Wales, who have never won a Test on South African soil, as the Cardiff flanker is a world-class openside and master of his craft.

But the 6ft 3in, 17 stones Jones is a more abrasive back row whose bulk could yet prove indispensable against the ever-physical Springboks.

''I've played across the back row for club and country. I've played at seven twice this season,'' he said.

''But at Llanelli we play left and right, so I'm familiar enough with it so there are no dramas there.

''I've got some massive boots to fill in Martyn Williams. I've played with him and against him and have nothing but respect for him. He's a great player and a great bloke.

''All I can do is do my best for the team on Saturday. We're different kind of players and I'm confident that I have something else to offer.''

The squad will remain in Cape Town until Friday when they head to Bloemfontein for the opening Test against the Springboks.

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