The 29-year-old has forged a reputation as one of the strongest scrummaging props in world rugby over the past few seasons. Jones is the cornerstone of the Wales pack, and was rewarded for his strong form with a place in last summer’s British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, where he started the final test match.
But a slow start to the season due to a combination of injury and the postponements of regional games resulted in Wayne Pivac not starting Jones against South Africa, and Fiji during Wales’ autumn campaign. However, Jones’ strength of character shone through, and he won back the starting jersey for Wales’ victory over Australia.
“I think I knew myself going into the autumn I was undercooked, to be honest with you,” said the 29-year-old. “I’d come back from the Lions tour with an injured shoulder and an injured back.
“I did my AC joint in the South Africa A game and only just passed the fitness test to play in the third Test, after struggling with an infection in the AC. Then I trapped a nerve in my back in the game, which meant I had to come off just after half-time.
“I was stuck on the changing room floor for 20 minutes after coming off and only just able to get up for the final whistle. That was a tough time. We were stuck in Jersey on the way back and I wasn’t very mobile.
“I was basically injured for my time off after the tour. For six to eight weeks, I couldn’t even run, I could hardly do anything.
“I was at home not really being able to walk much around the house. My back was stiff and I had a trapped nerve in my hip as well.
“I couldn’t do anything for those two months. That was a very frustrating time.
“I had to get my body right first before anything. In hindsight, I probably rushed back a little bit.
“But it was nice to get that autumn under my belt. I was feeling easier week on week as I got fitter.”
Jones’ season has been a rollercoaster ride. Having won back his Wales shirt and played a crucial role in Wales’ important victory over the Wallabies he was hoping for a run of games at regional level.
But the spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19 meant the Scarlets had to fly back early from South Africa, where they were due to play two United Rugby Championship fixtures, and isolate in Belfast for 10 days. Then came the cancellation of their opening two European fixtures against Bristol, and Bordeaux, respectively making it eight weeks without a game for Jones.
“It is a surreal position to be in really,” he said. “When you are injured, there is obviously frustration, but you know your work-on’s to get back playing.
“But when you are fit and able to play and there’s no games to play it’s definitely different. I can’t really explain what it’s like, training the whole week and then the game being cancelled last minute.
“As a player, it’s pretty difficult to plan for a game, train for a game and then have it called off at the last minute. But that’s the nature of Covid, you’ve got to adapt. I was a bit frustrated not to be able to play, but it is what it is.”
Jones returned last Saturday for the Scarlets’ Heineken Champions Cup defeat at Bordeaux. And the former Llandovery RFC prop is chomping at the bit ahead of joining up with the Wales squad next Monday. “I’ve been able to train week-in, week-out for the last couple of months and that has been a massive help for me,” said.
“I’ve been able to go through some tough sessions and I definitely feel a lot different now to what I did going into the autumn. The lay-off has been frustrating, but the body feels good and I’m looking forward to the future now.
“Hopefully, the matches will come thick and fast and I’ll get plenty of game time.”