By Paul Eddison
Now is the time for Dafydd Jenkins to step up according to Wales legend Shane Williams, as Warren Gatland seeks his long-term replacement for Alun Wyn Jones.
The world’s most capped player announced his retirement from international rugby during Wales’ World Cup preparations, bowing out with 170 caps in total.
That followed Justin Tipuric making the same decision, with Rhys Webb having followed suit a week later.
With all that experience out of the picture, Wales will need youngsters to step up in their place, with Williams having been impressed by Exeter Chiefs youngster Jenkins since he broke into the Test side last November.
Williams said: “Even though a lot of experience has retired from international rugby, but that gives opportunities for new players.
“The fact you have Alun Wyn, who has been the second row forever really. I was there when he started. He’s been the number one choice and we have been waiting in Wales for a second row to put their hands up. I think Dafydd Jenkins has done a good job. There is a lot more to come from him.
“The fact that Gatland has looked to Cory Hill and a couple of the old guard as well in the second row is really exciting. Because we need another Alun Wyn in Wales, someone who is going to give his all, play 80 minutes and you have to drag him off the field. He’ll hit rucks, he’ll tackle, he’ll work all day until his body can’t give anymore and we haven’t quite got that at the moment. So I’m looking forward to a second row stepping up to the mark.”
Jenkins has been joined by fellow Chiefs forward Christ Tshiunza in Wales’ World Cup preparations, with the players being put through their paces by Gatland and his coaching staff.
Williams knows just what that preparation entails, having been part of Gatland’s first World Cup squad back in 2011, and believes the Kiwi coach will get the youngsters in prime shape for the showpiece event in France.
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“Warren is a coach that instils confidence in players, he will certainly be putting them through their paces in the training camp,” added Williams, who was speaking as part of Gareth Thomas’ Tackle HIV Three Peaks challenge to demonstrate that living with HIV need not be a barrier to achieving anything, and to celebrate how far science and medicine have come in the last few decades.
“I’ve seen some pictures and videos coming back of boys doubled over, throwing up after a session. It’s old school training, but a World Cup is such a short tournament, it’s over in the blink of an eye.
“You lose a game and you are out of the competition completely. He’s got a lot of work to do, there has been a lot of negative publicity around Welsh rugby in the last 24 months, whether it be the WRU, whether it be wages of players, whether it is the regions.
“Now that the players are having the opportunity to go away and train hard, get out of the huge goldfish bowl that is Wales and really prepare to have no excuses going into a World Cup. What you find with Wales is you never write them off. There have been times when we have been written off and we have gone and won huge games and Grand Slams. My heart is saying is that is what is going to happen in this World Cup.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv