Jenkins the 'people's favourite' granted chance to lead Wales

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The Independent Online

A measure of order was restored to the insanity that has been Welsh rugby last night when Gareth Jenkins was named as Mike Ruddock's successor as national coach, signing up to a two-year contract believed to be worth up to £200,000 a year.

The Llanelli Scarlets director was the undoubted "people's favourite" to fill the role left vacant so controversially by the Grand Slam winner's exit in the middle of this year's Six Nations Championship and in choosing the 54-year-old the Welsh Rugby Union have decided to opt for a safe pair of hands. They are an experienced pair as well.

For despite the many qualities of Phil Davies ­ the only other name put forward by a five-man panel to the 17-man board of directors yesterday afternoon ­ the job has been agonisingly protracted in its arrival for Jenkins. "I feel very humble," he said last night. "It's something I have aspired to for a long, long time."

In charge at Stradey Park for, on and off, two decades ­ in which time he has won a Celtic League title, two domestic league and cup doubles as well as twice reaching the Heineken Cup semi-finals ­ the former international flanker was widely viewed as being unlucky not to be awarded the post when Ruddock was an unexpected, 11th-hour choice two years ago.

Then he intimated he would never apply again and when he reiterated two months ago his determination never to work under those at the WRU he believed had betrayed him, it seemed this affable servant of Welsh rugby ­ who served as assistant coach of Wales to Alan Davies in the early 1990s ­ had spurned his final chance by not applying. "For the good of Wales it was time to bury the hatchet," Jenkins explained yesterday, with the two officials who had been his nemeses ­ chief executive Steve Lewis and chairman David Pickering ­ by his side.

For their part Lewis and Pickering both declared that being seen to make the popular choice had nothing whatsoever to do with their recommendation to the board to appoint Jenkins.

"We have gone for Gareth because he was the best man for the job," said a grim-faced Lewis. "He is an innovative coach with great passion." But still, the feeling persists in Wales that anyone other than Jenkins might have spelt doom for the duo when they appear at an extraordinary general meeting convened by the clubs to face questions regarding the Ruddock fiasco. Whether this saves them remains to be seen.

Whatever, Jenkins' change of heart was being welcomed throughout his home country last night. "The support has been wonderful," said Jenkins. "To have so many people behind me makes me know this is right for me."

For Davies, the director of rugby at Leeds Tykes, the future is not all bleak as he is now expected to take over at the Scarlets. Jenkins' right-hand man in West Wales, Nigel Davies, is almost certain to join his backroom staff as the skills coach but the former steelworker is ready to keep Clive Griffiths as defence coach and Alan Phillips as team manager as he seeks to maintain at least a semblance of continuity and, more importantly, get the senior Welsh players on side.

"I can't wait to get started," Jenkins said, admitting that with 17 months to the World Cup his task is sizeable. "I know that the clock is ticking towards my first international in Argentina in four to five weeks' time. As a Welshman I agree with the style we have been playing, but I do think that we need some more tactical variation going forward. There are huge challenges lying ahead of us."

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