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I just want one more run out with the boys - Jenkins

31st October 2018

Gethin Jenkins will bow out of professional rugby this week having established himself as one of Wales' greatest ever players.

When the mobile prop pitched up at Pontypridd in 2000, few could have predicted he would embark on such an illustrious career.

Before the dawn of regional rugby, he made 62 appearances at the Sardis Road club and was rewarded with his first Wales cap in 2002, against Romania in Wrexham.

From there, the man they call Melon has barely looked back, he spent a season with the Celtic Warriors and following their collapse, all but one season at Cardiff Blues.

One-hundred-and-twenty-nine Wales caps followed and he will rack up his 195th competitive appearance for Cardiff Blues in this Sunday’s Guinness PRO14 encounter with Zebre.

It is not the way Jenkins, who penned a new contract at the end of last season, wanted to hang up his boots but he is determined to ride the pain to run out with his teammates at Cardiff Arms Park one last time.

“I have been rehabbing for the last three months to get back on the field and deep inside I expected to be playing this year, which is why I extended my contract,” said Jenkins. 

“I worked a lot with the physios, especially Tamer James and we were both confident. But I played a couple of games for the A team and the pain I was experiencing in my daily life was a lot and not tolerable. 

“We had some further scans and they showed the knee was no longer strong enough. As soon as I got to the rugby side of things, the force going through it, it just could cope

“For 18 years my life has been rugby, rugby, rugby and that mentality has helped me get where I am. 

“Of course, Reuben (Jenkins’ three-month-old son) is now a priority but it is the fact that I wasn’t sleeping at night, that I couldn’t get up from a chair to walk him round and that it was taking five minutes to warm my knee up. 

“My mind still thinks I can go out every week and I still think ‘go on, dig in for the rest of the season’ but I have to follow the advice and it makes sense. My knee has packed in – it’s had enough scrums and jackals over the years and is saying it’s time to finish.

“It’s obviously a big decision but I’ve had a good innings, it’s time to finish and I’m looking forward to one more run out on the weekend and hopefully finishing on a high.”

To say he has had a “good innings” is typically understated from Jenkins, who has achieved more than the majority of players could ever dream of.

He remains Wales’ most capped player and with his five British & Irish Lions Tests, is fourth on the global rankings and the world’s most capped prop.

He has won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams (who can forget that charge down on Ronon O’Gara in 2005?) and was pivotal to Wales’ march to the 2011 World Cup semi-final.

With Cardiff Blues he has twice lifted the European Challenge Cup and also the EDF Energy Cup, while during his once season away with Toulon, he won the coveted Heineken Cup.

“I have so many different memories, we could be here all day and it’s not just things I have won but memories of the game, how I started and where I have gone,” reflects Jenkins.  

“I have probably seen off three or four groups of friends who have retired because the age I have played to!

“But I am thankful for everything I have done, I have worked really hard to get where I have and have enjoyed quite a degree of success which I’m very proud of. 

“The best memory for me was probably the Grand Slam in 2005 because my two biggest supporters, my mum and dad, were there and if it wasn’t for them then I wouldn’t have got to where I have. 

“It was 27 years since Wales had won it, it was such a big occasion for the country and it sticks in my memory because both of my parents were there.

“For Cardiff Blues it’s a tale of two different eras. I came through with a lot of friends and I will never forget leading the boys out against Toulon in Marseilles. It was again cut short by injury but it was one of my greatest achievements. 

“The most satisfying has been to captain the team over the last three seasons. Even though I was devastated to be out of the final, to see the culture we built, the environment we had developed and to be there was amazing. 

“I presented jerseys to a few of the boys before the game and got quite emotional. Then to see the way the boys came back and won the game was really satisfying. 

“Even though I hadn’t played I could see the legacy coming through and that’s something I hope I’ve left in the Cardiff Blues and Wales jerseys.”

With such a glittering rugby CV, Jenkins has nothing to prove on the pitch but it is the feeling of running into battle with his friends that he will miss most. The thrill of a big hit at the Arms Park, the camaraderie and the exhausted beers in the changing rooms following a win.

“That’s probably the biggest reason I am putting myself through the pain for this weekend,” says Jenkins.

“That is the thing I will miss the most - the camaraderie and that buzz of going on the field with your teammates, playing the game and if you have won, the buzz in the changing rooms and sharing a few drinks afterwards. 

“Apart from my one year away, Cardiff Blues has been a massive part of my life. I have had great support over the years from Peter Thomas and the club in general and I have always loved running out at the Arms Park.

“I have been part of quite a few teams, we’ve had varying success and this is my home region. 

“I went from my home club of Pontypridd, to what was my home region and then the Blues became my home region. It has always made sense and I have always loved pulling on that jersey. 

“It will be tough to do it for the last time but you don’t keep any jersey, you have it for one game at a time and it’s your duty to put a performance in to keep it. I have been lucky to keep both for quite a bit of time and now it’s time to pass it on.”

Jenkins will now become a defence coach within the region’s academy system and he is relishing the opportunity to pass on his vast experience.

He has already had a taste while working with the A team and ask any player at the Arms Park and, at one stage or another, they have experienced his wrath.

But the 37-year-old insists it is honesty and hard work instilled during his formative years at Pontypridd that got him to where he is and is essential in developing the next generation.

He continued: “It’s hard to say (where that mentality comes from), but when I was coming through with Matthew Rees, we weren’t given anything, we were kept honest and you had to work for everything. 

“The more games you play, you learn how to be competitive and mentally tough. Things have happened in my personal life that have made me stronger, they say adversity makes you stronger and I have probably got in trouble over the years for speaking my mind. 

“But I don’t mind what people think, I will be honest and speak my mind and it’s managed to get me some success. I feel like it’s a good way of developing youngsters and I’m looking forward to working on the other side.”

Jenkins was a long-standing forward lieutenant of Shaun Edwards’ Wales defence and it would be surprising if he didn’t maintain some of those qualities.

But he also points to Steve Hansen for opening his eyes to the importance of culture and a positive environment.

He continued: “I know Shaun’s systems and methods inside out, he’s a great coach and has his own way of doing things. I will have my own way and won’t just limit myself to what he does because that is him and I’d like to learn a lot about what other people do. 

“Steve Hansen was also a big influence, even though he was only around a few years, it was when I was coming though – more the way he was around the squad, the culture, the selflessness and I hadn’t seen that before. 

“I am very proud of the culture we have managed to develop at Cardiff Blues and hopefully that can push us forward.

“Then of course Gats (Warren Gatland) has been a big part, Dai Young and then Danny (Wilson). You pick up stuff from every coach you work under, some more than others, but it sets you in good stead and I have learnt from all of them.”

And so at 1.45pm, Jenkins will enter the next chapter of his career. He is reluctant to take the limelight and is acutely aware of the importance that the Blues get back to winning ways following consecutive defeats.

He added: “It was a disappointing result last weekend but we’re at home, we need to bounce back from the Glasgow game and we owe Zebre one from the start of the season. 

“They will be confident, they’ve been playing some good rugby and had a good win against Edinburgh on the weekend but we will be doing our best to put things right.”