Worcester head coach Clive Griffiths has hailed the progress of “Matt the Gnat” and backed the former Wales international to recapture his best form in the New Year.
Griffiths, who was with the Welsh set-up when the Warriors fly half Matthew Jones made his only appearance for the national team, claims the 24-year-old is still improving after two years away from the elite level.
Since moving to Sixways, from London Welsh in the summer, Jones has played ten matches, including four out of six of the club’s Guinness Premiership fixtures and – last time out – was a central component in the side that won at Sale for the third time in three seasons.
That comes as some relief to Griffiths and director of rugby Mike Ruddock who could have been accused of taking an unsuccessful gamble had Jones not been able to return to the form of 2005 that saw the former Osprey guide the Welsh Under-21s to a Grand Slam and took him to the full squad on the tour of North America.
The following year, however, Jones suffered knee ligament damage playing in a sevens tournament and, having been released by the Magners League outfit, slipped out of the limelight and intoNational One.
And having missed out on several high-profile fly half targets, Worcester were forced to turn to a player with much to prove. It looks to have worked.
“He is certainly getting back to where he was,” said Griffiths. “I have seen a lot of his play and we were confident when he came here he could replicate his best. As an Under-21 he controlled games magnificently and kicked well.
“He is doing OK now but when he beds in he can become what he was [before the injury].
“He is good enough to get back to the fringes of the Welsh side or even in it.
“He has been there, seen it and done it. His dynamism and courage belie his stature. If he gets knocked off he’ll bounce straight back up again. Gnats don’t go away. I don’t want to put him on too high a pedestal. He is still feeling his way into it but is coming along nicely.”
That is not to say there haven’t been set-backs along the way. Jones played very well at Edgeley Park – in every facet but his place kicking, in which he missed five of his nine attempts. Had Sharks not been so poor it could have been costly.
As a former goal-kicker himself, however, Griffiths is not too perturbed by the misses. “He is quite a resolute guy mentally,” he said. “He gets back on the training park and gets on with it. He did that on Friday. He missed three on the bounce and then got himself together and kicked two very important ones. He gave us that extra score’s worth of breathing space.
“But the important thing is he didn’t let it affect his game, which is good. His kicking, passing and defensive game was good.”
Worcester are looking forward to the return of another former Wales international, Hal Luscombe. The centre has not played for Warriors since his off-season move from Harlequins but will make his comeback in an A team game with Henley on Monday night.
Worcester will be without Marcel Garvey, James Collins, Tom Wood and Ryan Powell for this week’s visit ofNewcastle Falcons.