Book of the week: Jenkins withdraws diplomatic relations

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The Independent Online
Life at Number 10:

An Autobiography

By Neil Jenkins with Paul Rees Mainstream, pounds 14.99, hardback.

A POLITICAL allusion in the title is apposite, since Franco-Welsh diplomatic relations are given a bit of thump in the run-up to the season of goodwill. It is to be hoped that Neil Jenkins' book remains this side of the channel.

Should any Frenchman read "Brive Encounters", the Wales stand-off's 19th chapter (neatly titled, as they all are, the majority seemingly puns on film titles), he would probably have an apoplectic fit. It deals with the infamous Heineken European Cup tie in France between Jenkins' club, Pontypridd, and the eventual winners, Brive. And it lays the blame firmly at the feet of the French.

Worse, New Zealander Murray Mexted is quoted at length on French attitudes to the game in general. The former All Black No 8 had a spell with Agen and does not mince his words: "Playing at home you go down on the ball and everything is OK; playing away you never go down on the ball, unless you have it in you to die for your club. In other words in home matches you kick the hell out of them and in away matches they kick the hell out of you. The average French club is not expected to win away... French referees apply great favouritism to the home side..." And there is more in the same vein. Jenkins fans the flames by adding: "It is worth quoting Mexted at length because his words came true for Pontypridd in Dax, then in Brive."

The latter match overflowed with passion from both sides; it was also packed with punch-ups. And once the final whistle had blown on a disappointing and narrow defeat for the Welsh club, the frustration was frog-marched along to the Bar Toulzac where there was another, more serious flare-up.

Jenkins says: "It emerged that the trouble had started when one of their players threw a bottle at our centre Jason Lewis and it hit him on the head." Two wrongs... as they say, but as Jenkins says, "... to attack one of us was attack us all ... Ponty boys do not hold back." Indeed they did not, and it all ended unhappily after that.

For all the apparent macho posturing of that particularly unsavoury affair, Jenkins actually comes across very well. His innate honesty and candour are given veracity, courtesy of Rees's undoubted skills. All too often Jenkins has been accorded robotic qualities because of his phenomenal, metronomic kicking ability, to a certain extent dehumanising him.

There is no doubt that the statistics are an integral part of the man, and a stunning section at the end of the book attests to his forte. But co-writer Rees has managed to open the door on this particular No 10 and has brought out the inner man a little.

The 27-year-old Jenkins has the good grace to admit that this autobiography only goes up to half-time. The finished product should make for an even more rounded read.

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