Jenkins in at the deep end
March 20, 2003

Gethin Jenkins will make his full RBS 6 Nations Championship debut on Saturday - by playing out of position against the Grand Slam-chasing Irish.

Promising Pontypridd prop Jenkins has been thrown in at the deep end for a Millennium Stadium showdown which Wales must win, otherwise they will go to France on Saturday week facing an embarrassing tournament whitewash.

Jenkins, normally a loosehead for his club, packs down at tighthead in a much-changed Welsh team following the 30-22 defeat by Scotland 12 days ago.

Wales coach Steve Hansen has no doubt the 22-year-old can do a job, claiming: ``Everything tells us that he will handle it well.''

And Jenkins, whose only previous start from four Test match appearances was against Romania last November, is determined to reward the confidence placed in him.

``The tighthead role is certainly different from playing at loosehead - it is a lot harder and a lot tougher physically, although you still get the bumps and bruises at loosehead,'' he said.

``But I have felt comfortable at tighthead in the games I've played there. There were a couple of scrums after I went on against England, and quite a few more than that during the Scotland game.

``I've also played there once or twice for Pontypridd and, while it's going to be tough, you just get on with it.''

Jenkins has impressed the Wales management, especially Hansen, with his technical efficiency and healthy attitude to the game and, in terms of the World Cup later this year, he is a player on whom considerable hopes will be pinned.

Weighing in at 18st 10lb and standing 6ft 2in tall, Jenkins is developing rapidly from the player who first displayed considerable promise by winning Wales Under-21 honours against England, Scotland, France and Italy.

``I have seen Gethin train and I have seen him play. He works hard and he's got a big heart,'' said Wales captain Jonathan Humphreys, who will pack down alongside Jenkins on Saturday.

Jenkins, unsurprisingly, is relishing the prospect of a Wales starting place following three appearances off the bench since his debut against Romania.

``Being picked to play against Romania came a bit out of the blue, but I am really enjoying myself in the Wales camp,'' Jenkins added.

``I am learning every game, and the only way you are going to learn is by playing.''

Trying to stop the unbeaten Irish presents a huge challenge for Jenkins and his team-mates though, especially as Wales have not toppled Ireland in Cardiff since 1983.

And while Ireland are on the trail of a championship clean sweep, Wales have not won a Six Nations game since March 2 last year, when tries from Craig Morgan, Dafydd James, Rhys Williams, Scott Quinnell and Andy Marinos helped them clinch a 44-20 success against Italy.

``Ireland have got a strong scrum and line-out - they do the basics well - but we have got to be aggressive and stand up to them,'' Jenkins said.

``I like to get around the park and if there's a tackle to be made then I look to put a big tackle in.''

If the rest of a Wales team that should be strengthened by returning players like Humphreys, Colin Charvis and Gareth Llewellyn, can match Jenkins' spirit and enthusiasm, then Saturday's clash might not be the Irish cakewalk many people are expecting.

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