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