Warren Gatland has made one pick for the First Test vs. News Zealand that few would have expected.
Gethin Jenkins returns to Wales’ starting line up as Gatland opts for experience (and mobility?) against an All Blacks team shorn of a host of legends.
Rob Evans had a fine Six Nations and it’s a surprise he hasn’t retained his place. There are perhaps a few areas that Jenkins has the advantage.
Whilst Evans had a good tournament defensively, Jenkins combines a similar defensive strength with better reading and anticipation of the game, projecting his defensive solidity onto the players around him. We’ll call it leadership, but it’s about being one of those talismanic players that others look up to, gain inspiration from and raise their game for.
Jenkins is like an extra back rower when it comes to stealing ball at the breakdown. He’s regularly the next player there after the tackle to challenge for the ball. Even without winning the turnover he can slow it down enough to disrupt an attack.
I don’t know about that now. Gethin Jenkins was very mobile for a prop in his prime, but at 35 can he be in for his pace? Perhaps his reading of the game gives him an extra yard so we’ll go with that.
With experience comes know-how, inspiration and leadership. All of these things count massively in rugby. Those who have never played will never know how a passionate team talk from a respected player can inspire others to lift themselves and go back out get the job done. And as an ageing rugby player, I find I can read the game better now than ever before. Even if I can’t know I won’t get there myself I can bring threats to the attention of the speedsters.
Experience counts for a lot and that’s probably the main reason Jenkins gets the nod.