So many No.7s? We want to be No.10s!

South Wales Echo - - SPORT -

JUST why is Wales pro­duc­ing so many out­stand­ing open-sides? Well, who bet­ter to ask than one of those men?

El­lis Jenk­ins is among a crop of spe­cial 7s in the Welsh game at the mo­ment, along with the likes of Justin Tipuric, Sam War­bur­ton, James Davies, Will Boyde, Ol­lie Grif­fiths and Josh Na­vidi, while Thomas Young is earn­ing rave re­views in the Aviva Premier­ship.

So how have we ended up with this wealth of riches in the break­away depart­ment?

Cardiff Blues flanker Jenk­ins, who played in all three of Wales’ Tests against the All Blacks last sum­mer, be­lieves it comes down to what hap­pens in the ju­nior ranks.

“At kids’ level, there is usu­ally a stand­out player who wants to do ev­ery­thing and he will just sort of push him­self to that po­si­tion be­cause he’s able to do most things,” said the 23-year-old.

“If he’s play­ing 7, he’s got the op­por­tu­nity to be in the game as much as pos­si­ble. That’s what you want, you want your bet­ter play­ers in­volved more.”

So, was that how Bed­dau boy Jenk­ins ended up on the open­side?

“I was just too slow to play out­side half! That was the dream,” he ad­mits.

“I started at full-back, then played 10 for a lit­tle bit, then nine and I just kept com­ing down the num­bers. “I think a lot of 7s are frus­trated 10s. “You don’t speak to many for­wards who planned on be­ing in the for­wards, put it that way!”

Jenk­ins be­lieves the po­si­tion he plays in is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing the des­ti­na­tion for tal­ented all-rounders at all lev­els of the game.

“If you watch lower di­vi­sion matches, the best player on the pitch is pretty much al­ways the open­side,” he said.

“It’s a po­si­tion you get pushed to as a kid if you are pretty com­pe­tent at most things.

“You get the half backs who are the skil­ful boys, then you get the guy who is quick and goes on the wing and the big guy who goes in the for­wards.

“But the flankers tend to be the boys who can try their hand at ev­ery­thing, or like to think they can!

“They are the boys who wanted to play in the backs, but weren’t quite quick enough.

“I think it’s a gen­eral trend in modern rugby. Most peo­ple you see at open­side will be qual­ity rugby play­ers.”

Jenk­ins has switched to the blind­side on oc­ca­sions dur­ing his 77-game Blues ca­reer, as a re­sult of fel­low break­aways Sam War­bur­ton and Josh Na­vidi also be­ing on the books.

But he re­mains clear in his own mind about what his pre­ferred long-term po­si­tion is.

“I think it’s open­side, es­pe­cially if I want to go to a higher level,” he said.

“My stature is more that of a 7. If you look at blind-sides these days, they are mostly 6ft 5ins and 18st, if not more.

“But I think me, Warby and Josh have shown you can play two open-sides.

“We know what each other wants, so we can man­u­fac­ture sit­u­a­tions to suit our­selves.

“You have seen Po­cock and Hooper go at it, you have seen Warby and Tipuric go at it for Wales.

“It def­i­nitely works if you can play the right sort of game.

“But if you look at Eng­land on the flip­side, they do the ex­act op­po­site, so there’s ar­gu­ments for both. There’s not just one way to skin a cat.”

The glut of Welsh 7s means the three­cap Jenk­ins faces a real bat­tle to make the Wales Six Na­tions squad which will be named next Tues­day.

“All I can do is fo­cus on what I am do­ing,” he said.

“Like you say, there are lots of open­sides and lots of boys vy­ing for those squad po­si­tions.

“You can make ar­gu­ments for any one of them. It de­pends on what the coaches want and what com­bi­na­tions they are look­ing for.”

For Jenk­ins, the im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity is the con­clu­sion of the Blues’ Chal­lenge Cup group cam­paign, with Satur­day’s trip to Pau fol­lowed seven days later by an Arms Park clash with Bris­tol.

At present, they are level on points with Bath at the top of Pool Four, but down in sec­ond spot on points dif­fer­ence.

“If we win both games we are pretty much guar­an­teed to qual­ify for the quar­ter-fi­nals, said Jenk­ins.

“All we can do is fo­cus on our­selves. What hap­pens with Bath and the other groups is out of our con­trol.

“It would be great to go all the way in Europe. Since I’ve been with the Blues, our sea­son has ended the first week of May. We haven’t gone be­yond the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“It would be a dif­fer­ent sce­nario for us to go on fur­ther, but some­thing we’d def­i­nitely rel­ish.” GLOUCES­TER Rugby have con­firmed the sign­ing of Le­ices­ter Tigers’ Welsh fly-half Owen Wil­liams.

The for­mer Scar­let will join the King­sholm outfit at the end of the sea­son and is set to earn a re­ported £300,000-a-year at the Aviva Premier­ship club.

Wil­liams has es­tab­lished him­self as a reg­u­lar in Eng­land’s top flight hav­ing scored 574 points in his five years at Welford Road.

“I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to join­ing Glouces­ter next sea­son and fac­ing new chal­lenges in my rugby ca­reer,” said Wil­liams (pic­tured above).

“Glouces­ter is a team with a great his­tory who play an ex­cit­ing brand of rugby, which re­ally ap­peals to me and I look for­ward to join­ing up with my new team mates in the sum­mer.

“I would like to thank ev­ery­one at Le­ices­ter Tigers in­clud­ing the fans for the great mem­o­ries and support they have given me through­out my time at the club, and I am fully com­mit­ted to them un­til the end of the sea­son.”

The 24-year-old har­bours am­bi­tions of breaking into the se­nior Welsh squad and the Cardiff Blues were in­ter­ested in bring­ing him back to his home­land.

Though WalesOn­line un­der­stands their in­ter­est stopped short of a for­mal bid be­cause they were un­able to match the fi­nan­cial mus­cle of the English clubs.

Should Wales de­cide they want to call up the Ystradgynlais prod­uct, they wouldn’t be re­quired to use one of their wild­card picks even though he plays out­side the coun­try.

The pivot wouldn’t be cap­tured by Gat­land’s Law be­cause there was no of­fer on the ta­ble from within Wales, ei­ther from an in­di­vid­ual re­gion or in the form of a WRU Na­tional Dual Con­tract.

Wil­liams will com­pete with Billy Burns for the No.10 jersey at Glouces­ter, with for­mer Wales in­ter­na­tional James Hook ex­it­ing King­sholm and head­ing to the Ospreys next sea­son.

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