It safe to say that Gethin Jenkins has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his coaching career. The former Cardiff Blues, Wales and British & Irish Lions prop joined Wales’ backroom staff as defence coach during the autumn series, only two years after hanging up his playing boots.
Jenkins drew the curtain on his illustrious playing career in November 2018, with his 195th and final Cardiff Blues appearance in the Guinness PRO14 win over Zebre at Cardiff Arms Park.
He would immediately kick off his coaching career with a role in the Cardiff Blues academy, mentoring the next generation of Arms Park superstars and taking charge of the ‘A’ side, while also leading the defence in the Indigo Group Premiership with Cardiff RFC.
Having gained a reputation as a player who demanded the highest of standards from himself and those around him, it should come as no surprise that the man known as ‘Melon’ has already made an impression in the coaching world.
Jenkins credits his roles with Cardiff Blues academy and Cardiff RFC as being highly beneficial to his development as a coach and he’s thoroughly enjoyed the journey so far.
“It has happened quite quick. I’ve really enjoyed doing it really,” said the 134-times capped Test prop.
“I know it was at a lower level with Cardiff RFC but what it enabled me to do was really get in the mix for it and almost run it anyway I wanted and learn on the job.
“With the Blues and working with the younger players it gives you a chance to learn and think a lot more about the technical side of the game.
“Whereas if you are coaching at regional level you are preparing for games week in, week out which is tough going.
“I’d like to think coming into this environment I’ve got a good handle on it already because I’ve been here so long. I know the routine and how it works and how the players work.
“I’m probably the first port of call when we’re talking about how the players might think. I’ve got that link because in the management group I am the last one out of playing.
“I’d like to think I’ve got a good handle on the players and where they want to go. I’m grateful for the opportunity. The autumn came up a bit last minute but I’ve really enjoyed it so far."
Another big influence in shaping Jenkins’ traits and beliefs as a coach was Shaun Edwards, who was Wales’ defence coach for eight years of the prop’s international career.
But now it’s Jenkins that is in charge of Wales’ defence, and is set to come up against his former mentor later in the tournament, with Edwards now a part of the French coaching team.
Having played alongside current internationals such as Josh Navidi, Alun Wyn Jones, Tomos Williams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny, the defence coach is confident he can use his knowledge of those players to his advantage.
“I'd have to say, without going too far away from it, because I've lived it with Shaun and been involved in the system so much I've obviously learnt so much from that,” added the 40 year old.
“The majority is from that, but you go round as a coach and see different environments, I've been lucky enough to do that a few times.
“You just pick up little bits from everywhere. I wouldn't like to name names, but you do just pick up little bits. It might be one little thing you go and see and think 'I like that', or even just from watching games and seeing other teams doing certain things.
“Every coach ends up pinching stuff off other people. I have a great analyst with me as well in Mark Kinnard who worked with Shaun and studies the game so well, I lean on him quite a bit. Those are the main ones.
“I wouldn’t say it’s odd [to coach former team-mates], it’s probably easier because you almost know how they work. I’ve got a good relationship with all of them from my playing days and almost know what they want out of a coach.
“I know where I am with them because they’ve got to the top by working hard and playing well at international level.
“I’ve got a good relationship with the boys I played with – they’re the easy ones. It’s the other boys who are coming through or are a little bit younger that you have to work with a bit more to build a relationship with them.“
Wales head into round two of Guinness Six Nations action on the back of an opening day win over Ireland, who were limited to a single try, scored by former Scarlets lock Tadhg Beirne.
They head up to Murrayfield to take on a Scotland side who stunned England at Twickenham in round one and, as ever, Jenkins has called on his side to continue to lift their standards in defence.
“A few people have said to me ‘Oh the defence was better’ [against Ireland]. For me it was an improvement. I wouldn’t say it was great," said the former Lion.
“There are still a lot of areas we can work on. Considering some of the bumps we had and some of the forwards hadn’t played a lot of rugby in the past six weeks, I thought we started well and then for me a bit of fatigue set in and we probably lost our way a little bit with some of our collisions and discipline.
“At the end of the day I’ll take a win in the first game but we need to keep working on those areas. We’ve had two weeks and I’ve managed to get a lot of coaching time in to work on some of the areas we need to improve on. I want us to go to another level again.
“I think the main one for me and what starts it all is our work rate to get in position and talk. Then we need to put pressure on teams.
The game has changed at the moment. I don’t think there is as much emphasis on the breakdown and people turning the ball over, especially at international level. I think a lot of it is about winning collisions.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work on that and developing the younger players so they realise they need to be talking more and the body language needs to be good.
“We need to be consistently getting up off the line and getting back into position. There are little intricacies in defence which you can work on but a lot of it comes down to your mindset and wanting to get out there and defend and be aggressive in that area.
“I’m still building that and I’ve had two weeks coaching in that area. You build that over time. I’m enjoying it at the moment but like I said there is a lot of hard work still to be done.
“If you’re playing Ireland you do end up making a lot more tackles than normal as they’re very good at keeping the ball. I don’t see making 200 tackles as a positive, it’s more a negative. If we’re making 200 tackles it means stuff isn’t going right in other areas.
“I take keen interest in the exits, contact area, all that stuff that leads us to making 200 tackles. Part of that might be we’re not as good at the breakdown as we should be, technically or with our ability in that area. If we have to make that many tackles we’re probably not as accurate somewhere else.
“It’s good that we’ve got work rate, intent and all that but ideally it would be a lot less than that. That’s what we’re driving this week.
“It’s always intense up in that box. It probably makes it a bit more because there’s no crowd, so any groans or shouts you can hear a bit louder. You are almost trying to get back in your seat and calm the emotions.
“But, the same as a player, you get the buzz on a match day and you live it as you would on the field.
“It was the first time I had been back at the stadium for a match since I played. With the players coming out for the team-run, I had a bit of a buzz thinking this is what it is about.
“I obviously miss playing but everything comes to an end and it’s probably the closest an ex-player gets to it is that match day feeling and making sure the boys are prepared as well as they can to put a performance in.”