Jonathan Davies: Jenkins the right man at the right time for Wales

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The Independent Online

Now that Wales have advertised for a coach to take over from Steve Hansen at the end of the season, I expect a flood of applications from abroad. Why not? It's a well-paid, high-profile job, a touch of Welsh magic at the World Cup signalled a better future, and the last incumbent but one has just been appointed New Zealand coach.

For an ambitious coach that's a great prospect. And there are many voices urging the Welsh Rugby Union to import some more foreign influence. I disagree wholeheartedly.

I'm not against the principle of bringing in a foreign coach, but there has never been a moment in Welsh rugby history when a home-grown leader was more essential. With our new regional set-up fighting to establish itself, and with the international team raising high expectations that they will immediately build on the promise they showed in Australia, only a Welshman can bring the touch that's needed.

And the fact that we have outstanding candidates ready to take up the challenge makes the time even more ripe for a local man to make good.

I am not exactly making a shock proposal. The best international teams in the world are run by their own. Whether it's England, New Zealand and Australia in rugby union, Australia in rugby league, France, Brazil, Spain and Italy in football, Australia again in cricket... having a home-bred coach has proved a big factor.

As you move down the ratings, a coach from a more powerful country can be a help. This proved to be the case when Wales recruited Graham Henry when they were in the doldrums six or seven years ago. Hansen followed naturally from him. But Scotland have just employed the Australian Matt Williams as their new coach, and he has immediately started swinging the new broom and threatening that in future only players based in Scotland will play for their country.

It is not drastic action Wales need, however. Now that the Welsh team are reviving memories of the dash and verve of old, they need someone who already possesses a deep knowledge of Welsh rugby, its traditions, its strengths and weaknesses and, furthermore, someone who can command instant respect.

We have an excellent crop of Welsh coaches at the moment, most of them working hard to make the regions a success. We also have Phil Davies at Leeds, but it is understandable that he would want to stay to enjoy the high levels to which he has taken the club.

To bring in an outsider at this stage of the reconstruction of Welsh rugby would hardly serve as an encouragement, and to overlook the claims of Llanelli's Gareth Jenkins would be a major error.

I am not being dismissive of Mike Ruddock, Lyn Jones, Lynn Howells and Dai Young, but they need more time to develop at regional level and, to me, the future of the regions is as important to the long-term health of Welsh rugby as the national team are.

The five-man selection panel must have sound and sensible reasons if they fail to recognise the value that Jenkins offers. From the time I was in the Stradey Park crowd when he played as wing-forward for Llanelli in that historic defeat of New Zealand in the 1970s, I have watched Gareth's progress. He coached me when I played for the Scarlets, and what he has done with Llanelli both in home and European competitions has been so impressive to observe.

He has not coached at international level, but I can't think of anyone who has better credentials. His man-management is superb. No player has ever joined Llan-elli and not improved as a result. Players who have left Llanelli don't have the same record of improvement. He sees every game differently and can change team and tactics accordingly. What is more, he understands the culture and the emotion of Welsh rugby better than anyone.

Llanelli would undoubtedly miss his enthusiasm and passion for the game, but he has created a superb structure around Nigel Davies and Paul Moriarty to carry on the good work.

It is not often you can be so sure about a coach's elevation to the big stage, but you can in this case. For Jenkins, this would be exactly the right time.