The man who re-defined propping

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Without wishing to make anyone reading this feel old, I was only 10 when Wales won our first Grand Slam of the professional era in 2005.

As someone who wasn’t particularly rugby mad when growing up, this is my first real memory of the sport with the egg shaped ball, and the defining image of the campaign in my head is Gethin Jenkins flopping on the ball over the try line after charging down Ronan O’Gara and perfectly dribbling towards five points.

Therefore Sunday will be very odd for me, as the final whistle will signal the first time in my rugby watching life that the man they call ‘Melon’ is not storming around a rugby field somewhere around the world, either in the blue of Cardiff or the red of Wales.

For the last 13 years in my memory, and a little longer if you remember Gethin bursting onto the scene for Pontypridd in the pre-regional days, the Beddau boy done good has been setting all sorts of standards at every level of rugby union.

195 Cardiff Blues appearances, 129 Wales caps and five British and Irish Lions test caps are hugely impressive tallies at all levels.

Gethin Jenkins Wales
Gethin Jenkins has been a stalwart in the Wales setup

The second most Cardiff Blues appearances post-2003, most-capped Wales player ever and the most-capped loosehead prop rugby has ever seen are records that put him in the top 1% of players to have played the game.

More than all that though is the legacy that Gethin Jenkins leaves behind in the game. He revolutionised the position of loosehead prop and has helped change rugby forever as skill levels have gone into another stratosphere.

Over the last 15 years New Zealand have undoubtedly been consistently the best rugby team in the world, yet it is no exaggeration to suggest that Jenkins could have slotted into the All Blacks side with ease as the best loosehead in the game for many years.

He had the basics nailed as a strong scrummager, a physical carrier and a hard tackler when required. What rugby expected from a prop as the game still suffered from the hangover of the amateur years.

However, there was so much more to his game that set him apart from other players in the position.

As an athlete he was unrivalled by other front rowers, a lot of back rowers and even some backs, in terms of both his sprint speed and his engine to get around the field. He brought so much to his team in terms of hitting rucks and supporting breaks that put a number of team-mates to shame.

Then there was his skillset, which often led to him being referred to as a flanker in a prop’s body. Throughout his career he teamed up with the likes of Robin Sowden-Taylor, Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton with both Cardiff Blues and Wales as a real threat over the ball at the breakdown.

Gethin Jenkins Zebre 2
Gethin Jenkins is a prop, and so much more

Add in some outrageous attacking talent, we all remember that try against Namibia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and you’ve got close to the complete rugby player.

Finally, Gethin has such a superb rugby brain, it has what has seen him captain Wales many times and lead Cardiff Blues over the last three seasons.

The personification of calm on the rugby field, he was assertive yet calculating in his decision making, and had the vision to see the game developing a few phases ahead of others. It would be a scary statistic to see how many counter attacks came about from a sly Jenkins bloke in midfield over the years.

As a Cardiff Blues supporter Melon has been central to our Anglo-Welsh Cup and European Challenge Cup successes, as well as a constant figure despite struggles in recent years, playing a huge role in building the culture at The Vale that took us to Bilbao last May.

Unfortunately injury prevented him from one last big stage there, and cuts his career short, although that belies the longevity he has shown to still be playing and performing at such a high level at the age of 37. The ultimate professional.

I have no doubt that it will prove a masterstroke by Cardiff Blues to get Gethin Jenkins straight on board with the Academy coaching. What he can pass on to the youngsters will be priceless, and as his coaching career progresses he will become a high quality defence coach at a senior level.

For now though, it’s a thank you to Gethin for the first 15 years of my rugby watching life as a player, and a good luck for the next 15 years as a coach. The Arms Park owes you a superb send-off. A legend.

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