100 Club: Ellis Jenkins

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When Shaun Edwards is speaking, invariably people stop and listen such is his presence and most importantly, his knowledge when it comes to rugby.

The man is arguably the best defence coach in the world, having masterminded that area of the game with Wales for the best part of the decade and turning the Cardiff Blues defence from the worst to the best in the professional rugby era.

“He can be better than the lot of them, better than Sam Warburton”

You might think Edwards is talking about a David Pocock, or Sam Cane, but in fact he’s talking about a man much closer to home, and a man for whom the doors to the Cardiff Blues 100 club have opened for the first time since Alex Cuthbert entered in May 2017.

The man Edwards is referring to is Ellis Jenkins who appeared in the colours of his home region for the 100th time on Friday night against Munster at the age of just 25.

It caps a five-year stint in which, quietly but confidently, the man from Church Village has gone from successful Wales U20s captain to Cardiff Blues and Wales senior captain whilst playing in easily the most competitive position in the country.

Rewind to 2013 and while the rugby world are excited about the open field running of Jordan Williams, the man leading Wales U20 to a best ever runner-up spot at the Junior World Championship is Ellis Jenkins, who goes on to make his first Pro12 start the next November in a 26-26 draw at Treviso.

Before long the flanker has played in four Heineken Cup games, including receiving a first senior yellow card away at Toulon, and is a permanent fixture in the first team. He has made at least double figures of starts in each of the four intervening full seasons, peaking at 18 in 2015/16.

Jenkins has even had his fair share of injuries in that time, most notably ripping part of his hamstring from the bone in pre-season 2017, but has largely been able to provide stability to the side during a period when results were often not going our way.

It is perhaps for that reason why Ellis has become such a fan favourite, often standing out head and shoulders above the rest with his performances when more experienced team-mates have fallen by the wayside.

So impressive has he been, Jenkins is often referred to as ‘Simba’ on Twitter due to the belief that he is a future captain of the British and Irish Lions. A big claim, but not as far fetched as it may seem.

First though, he’s got to nail down a spot in the extremely competitive Wales back row.

The man who is in pole position to wear the number seven jersey in Japan next year is undoubtedly Justin Tipuric, who Warren Gatland has trusted in that role over the last five years, took on the Lions tour last year and has had a superb start to the season with the Ospreys.

Tipuric’s major attribute is his attacking prowess, in that he runs like a 400 metre sprinter and has handling that most backs can only dream of. Ellis isn’t one to be ignored in attack though.

Admittedly he’s not a natural athlete like the Ospreys man is, but he has a deft set of hands, runs some very smart angles and is aware of where the try line is. Most importantly though, Jenkins has a rugby brain.

Ellis stepped in at scrum-half, a position he played as a junior, against Benetton last season after both Tomos and Lloyd Williams departed during the game, while many Cardiff Blues supporters will remember our Heineken Cup play-off against Stade Francais in 2016 where he played at centre and full-back during a bizarre game.

However great showbiz rugby is though, games are more often than not decided in the belt and braces work, and Ellis is second to none in rivalling the likes of James Davies over the ball.

In terms of the consistent legality of his turnovers, Ellis Jenkins is the best player over the ball that Wales have. He is straight off the Cardiff conveyor belt of classic openside talent, following Robin Sowden-Taylor, Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton.

The rugby world sometimes seems to forget the value of having a jackal in the squad. You look at England scrabbling around to find a natural number seven and how that’s creeping in to the Welsh rugby public psyche with calls for Aaron Shingler or Ross Moriarty to partner Justin Tipuric in Warren Gatland’s back row.

Ellis Jenkins can produce huge moments in games over the ball though, and of all the clips that could’ve been included of him winning turnovers at the breakdown, that one was selected as a momentum changer in the European Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao.

When you throw his leadership credentials into the mix, he’s now club captain at the Arms Park and co-led Wales with Cory Hill over the summer, it’s difficult to see a future picture of Welsh rugby that doesn’t include the man they call Simba.

Just make sure you keep winning trophies at the Arms Park on the way to the top Ellis boy! Here’s to 200…

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