"The intensity of training and playing will leave my body in bits,'' Gethin Jenkins said. "I can't imagine what state I'll be in in 10 years' time.'' Right now, though, the 24-year-old Welshman, 6ft 2in and 18st 10lb, looks the epitome of the modern prop-forward, and his promotion to Lions Test status has been extraordinary.
From the moment he charged down the clearance kick by Ronan O'Gara in the style of an openside flanker to score a try in Wales's Grand Slam victory over Ireland, Jenkins's selection for the Lions tour was inevitable. And from the moment he scored a try against Wellington, supporting a break by the scrum-half Dwayne Peel, his selection for yesterday's First Test was almost as certain.
"I'm very lucky,'' Jenkins said. "So far I've been involved in a lot of rugby on this tour. It's the pinnacle of my career, and I've been given the chance to fulfil my lifelong ambition and live out my dreams.''
Half a dozen of his fellow countrymen were not so fortunate as Sir Clive Woodward fell back to a core of Englishmen who know what it's like to win at the highest level. Jenkins was asked if he was disappointed so many fellow Grand Slammers were omittedyesterday. "I can't answer that,'' he replied. "I know that some of the boys were gutted.''
Jenkins was quick to toe the party line. "It may be a talking point with the spectators but it's not in the Lions camp. We're all pulling together and chipping in. For me it's been a brilliant experience. It was difficult at the start, quite awkward really, because basically I'm a shy person. Every mealtime was mentally demanding as we had to mix and get to know each other. I'm learning different things every week. Before he got injured, Lawrence Dallaglio was quite inspiring. There are no cliques, no split loyalties. There are a load of different personalities but we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Everybody's got stuff to say to each other.''
Jenkins, who made his debut for Wales against Romania three years ago, has bumped into Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, his former coach who influenced him when he was in charge of Wales. "I have a lot of respect for both of them,'' Jenkins said. "Steve brought me in when I was very young. I had a quick chat with him after the game against the Maori. He's still his grumpy old self.''
Hansen changed Jenkins from a loosehead prop to tighthead. "Wales were a bit short in that department so I switched,'' Jenkins said. "But I prefer loosehead and I'm happy to be back there. I had a few hidings earlier in my career but you've got to learn to adapt. So far this tour has been as physically demanding as I expected. Everybody's got stuck into us. You have to take a massive step up. Physically, I'm much bigger than I used to be. I've had a year working in the gym and I'm in much better shape.''
Jenkins paid tribute to Andrew Hore, the Wales fitness trainer who transformed the approach of the squad. Two years ago, Wales conceded 50 points to New Zealand. "I was 22 and I learnt a few lessons that day,'' Jenkins said. "We lost Colin Charvis to a devastating tackle by Jerry Collins. We had no answer to their power and pace but we've improved considerably. Everyone has got better, so much so that we could have beaten the All Blacks in Cardiff last autumn. We've got some world-class players and we now play with a lot of style and passion.
"With the Lions it's a different approach, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. We're trying out different things and it's coming together. Everybody wants to get their hands on the ball. It's a bit boring otherwise. I'm just chuffed to bits to be involved in the whole thing and it hasn't been just rugby, rugby, rugby. That would also be a bit boring.''
Jenkins has had an emotional reunion here with his mother, Lesley, who was diagnosed with lung cancer six months ago. Last January she had her left lung removed at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. She had booked a trip 11 months ago to follow the Lions tour, and that was before she knew her son would be in the squad, let alone the Test team.
"The doctors told me I'd be in New Zealand in June,'' she said. "I've come to the end of the fourth cycle of chemo-therapy. It should last for six months and I'm taking a break from it. This is the holiday of a lifetime.''Reuse content