Jenkins pays scant regard to day of Scarlet legend

In 1972, Wales' coach played in a famous victory over the All Blacks. But, he tells James Corrigan, he will not be using the past for inspiration today
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The Independent Online

When it is time to dismantle the flowchart, scrub clean the drawing board and turn off the laptop, the clever modern rugby coach often switches the priority from throbbing brain to empty heart by calling in an old hero to deliver a rousing team talk. Someone who has been there, done it and in Wales' case today actually beaten the damn All Blacks.

Gareth Jenkins need not have looked far for such a Braveheart this week, despite that little fact of Wales not having triumphed over New Zealand in 53 years. He simply has to raise his finger to the mass of cartilage where his nose once stood and say: "See this, lads? They did this to me. But I still had 'em."

Alas, this delicious scenario will not unfold in the bowels of the Millennium Stadium today as the Wales coach has insisted he will desist from reminding his men of the infamous day when the pubs ran dry and when he, as a fiery young flanker, ran deep into folklore with the other Stradey legends. In truth, it is only 34 years since a Welsh side did the impossible - Llanelli, 9-3, in 1972. Surely, the story of that fabled afternoon needs resurrecting just one more time?

"No, boys. Rugby's moved on," said Jenkins when asked to wax that wonderfully lyrical way of his. "There's not much in common between the game of now and the game of then, with all the conditioning, preparation and what have you. But what is similar is the extraordinary physical demand you have to live with to prevail over them. If you can do that, match their intensity, there comes a moment when the side that is not used to being under pressure starts to feel it. Then you have a chance and that's what happened back then. That was definitely the most physical game I ever played in."

The tapes confirm it. There is the straggly-haired Scarlet raining punches on a prop who had just performed some rudimentary rhinoplasty all of his own. The giant in question was one Keith Murdoch, an 18-stone doorman from Dunedin who gained everlasting infamy later in the tour when being sent home in disgrace after an incident with a Cardiff security guard. Jenkins had received a rather painful sneak preview.

"You know, what I remember most is the day after when I had to go to work my shift in the steelworks," said Jenkins, emphasising just how dramatically union has changed. "One of the plant's bigwigs - an Englishman as it happens - came up, shook my hand and congratulated me. He looked at my face and said, 'Son, you are going to have two exquisite shiners there, so do what I used to in such circumstances and put two sirloin steaks on your eyes'. Then he slipped something into my top pocket which, when I got home, I discovered was a £10 note. Ten pounds! I was only earning £18 a week then. I told my wife, 'Bugger it, I'm not going to work 'til Saturday now'."

In his unguarded moments, Jenkins is one for the memories, but then he has to be. As soon as he was finally given the national coaching job in April he was questioned long and hard about being "Carwyn James reincarnate" and the run-up to this match has inevitably seen the scrutiny on their association only intensify. James humbled the All Blacks three times (with Llanelli and twice with the Lions) and most probably would have with Wales if he had ever been allowed to coach them. The thought of his apprentice at last righting the wrong is just too romantic to be avoided.

"Yes, my relationship with Carwyn was unique and the comparison will always be made," said Jenkins, almost with a sigh. "But like I said it has all moved on. I have this image of Carwyn strolling up to the training pitch in a suit, with his trouser bottoms tucked in his socks, with a cigarette in his hand. Yes, Carwyn was a man before his time, a special guy, a philosopher. But I'm not so sure he'd get away with that now."

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