Jenkins buzzing ahead of Springboks clash
PA Sport
November 23, 2007

Rookie captain Gethin Jenkins is relishing the prospect of leading new-look Wales into battle against world champions South Africa on Saturday.

The Cardiff Blues prop was a surprise choice by caretaker coach Nigel Davies for Wales' first Test match since their dismal World Cup flop.

And while it might be for one game only - New Zealander Warren Gatland arrives to start work as Wales' new boss next week - Jenkins will not lack incentive.

He said: "Pontypridd under-21s was the last time I captained a side, and I enjoyed that experience.

"There is obviously extra responsibility, but you do feel a bit of a buzz from it.

"You look forward to everything and seeing how the team gels to the best of its ability.

"As captain, people look up to you all the time, looking for you to have comments on things."

Jenkins is among only six survivors in their starting positions from Wales' last game - the World Cup-ending defeat against Fiji in Nantes on September 29.

Absentees include the likes of Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas, Stephen Jones and Ian Gough - plus flanker Martyn Williams, whose post-World Cup Test retirement ended an outstanding international career.

And with full-back Morgan Stoddart and prop Rhys Thomas making their first Test starts, it is not exactly a Wales team overflowing with experience.

Even though South Africa are without World Cup winners Percy Montgomery, Butch James, Fourie Du Preez, Os Du Randt, Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw, the combined team cap tally is still 10 more than Wales'.

Jenkins added: "I am looking forward to getting out there and seeing how we go.

"We have always got to think positively about the future. We want to get back to where we were, and this is the first chance for this group of players on Saturday.

"If everything is right and in place, I definitely think we can compete."

Welsh fans' major interest will revolve around the all-Ospreys midfield trio of James Hook, Gavin Henson and Sonny Parker.

Henson makes his first Test start for more than a year, with Parker's rich vein of form - he scored two tries for the Ospreys against Heineken Cup rivals Gloucester last week - underpinning his selection.

Davies has urged Wales to "make a statement" by stunning the Springboks, but it is difficult to envisage them securing enough possession against a Springboks pack containing five World Cup finalists, including second-row enforcer Bakkies Botha.

Davies said: "We've had our hand forced a little in the backs with injuries to both Lee Byrne and Jamie Robinson ruling them out of contention.

"But the result is a pretty exciting, new-look backline which I am sure can make South Africa stand up and take notice.

"Facing the current world champions is obviously a tough prospect, but we are playing at home in front of a baying crowd of Welsh fans.

"We have a magnificent opportunity to make a statement that will reverberate around world rugby.

"This Wales team is good enough to do something special on Saturday.

"We need to start getting a winning mentality into the group.

"The World Cup was a huge disappointment and losing can become a habit, so we have challenged the players this week about stepping out of the comfort zone and what it takes to win."

A crowd of around 50,000 is expected, which would mean more than 20,000 empty seats. Confirmation, despite what the Welsh Rugby Union's marketing men might say, that Saturday's clash is a Test match too far, coming just five weeks after the World Cup ended in France.


Wales: M Stoddart (Llanelli Scarlets); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues); J Hook (Ospreys), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, capt), H Bennett (Ospreys), R Thomas (Newport Gwent Dragons), I Evans (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), C Charvis (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys).

Replacements: T R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragos), A Popham (Llanelli Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T James (Cardiff Blues).

South Africa: R Pienaar (Natal Sharks); J P Pietersen (Natal Sharks), J Fourie (Golden Lions), F Steyn (Natal Sharks), B Habana (Blue Bulls); A Pretorius (Golden Lions), R Januarie (Golden Lions); C J Van Der Linde (Free State), J Smit (Clermont Auvergne, capt), J Du Plessis (Free State), B Botha (Blue Bulls), J Muller (Natal Sharks), S Burger (Western Province), J Smith (Free State), R Kankowski (Natal Sharks).

Replacements: B Du Plessis (Natal Sharks), H Van Der Merwe (Golden Lions), A Van Den Berg (Natal Sharks), H Lobberts (Blue Bulls), W Olivier (Blue Bulls), A Ndungane (Blue Bulls), C Jantjes (Golden Lions).

Referee: Chris White (England).

Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England) and David Changleng (Scotland).

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