NEIL JENKINS brought
the curtain down on his remarkable career as Wales said farewell to one
of its great players and the most prolific points scorer the game has
The world record holder
took to the Millennium Stadium for his last game of rugby before hanging
up the boots that have knocked over an astonishing 1,090 Test points and
won him universal acclaim.
But it is the humility
he has shown throughout his 13 years at the top, and again demonstrated
today, that has earned him world-wide respect.
"It was an honour
to walk out onto that pitch in front of the fans, but also a humbling
experience," said the 32-year-old.
"I could never
have imagined when I won my first cap (against England in 1991) that I
would be given such a send-off so long afterwards. It was a moment that
will always remain with me."
The day began with a
reception that was as heartfelt as it was deserved. A standing ovation
from the 24,000 who had come to watch as he walked onto the rugby field
for the last time with his daughter Georgia and a guard of honour from
some of the biggest names in rugby heralded his entrance and marked his
departure after a thoroughly entertaining - and emotional - game.
"It's difficult to
put into words what the day meant, but the reception from the supporters
and the other players was brilliant and more than I could ever have
asked for," he said.
"It was a pretty
emotional moment walking out at the Millennium Stadium with people who
have helped and supported my throughout my career and all I can say is
"The lap of honour
at the end with Jason (Leonard) was tinged with sadness because I knew I
had played my last game. There's no other feeling like running out in
front of a big crowd before playing the game you love, especially when
it's for Wales and in front of 73,000 at Cardiff.
"You don't get
that buzz in any other job and to think that it won't happen again is
very sad. It makes me wish I could play for ever. Obviously I can't and
I know that this is the right time to have made this decision."
That decision has made
many realise that perhaps Wales did not realise what it had, until now
when it has gone.
There is little that
there has not already been said about the Ginger Monster during a
prolific career. A model professional, a unique goal-kicker and a
genuinely nice guy, the plaudits are always the same, whoever you speak
to and wherever you are in the rugby world.
But what the fans,
admirers and those who simply wanted to say farewell to one of Welsh
rugby's greatest players at the Millennium Stadium is that it is
probably only now that Jenkins is truly appreciated.
An unsophisticated and
selfless player, Jenks received more than his fair share of criticism
for not fitting into the model of Welsh outside-halves following the
likes of Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies.
Yet his two tours with
the British Lions, in particular the historic tour of South Africa in
1997, and 87 caps for Wales was proof that his standing was never
questioned by those within the game.
And the fact that so
many stars, stretching across all aspects of Welsh life, including Wales
striker Craig Bellamy and ex-Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable, as well
as fans turned up for yesterday's testimonial is evidence that the same
can be said about Wales.
rewritten the record books, while always considering himself privileged,
the Valleys boy has finally gained almost cult status within his
homeland and how dearly would we love to see him still knocking over the
points with unerring regularity in the red No 10 jersey.
"I've always been
happy to keep myself to myself as I always played for the love of the
game. I never liked all the attention and everything else that comes
with playing at the top level but I always understood it was part of the
professional game," he said.
"It will be
strange this summer not thinking about pre-season and planning for
what's ahead, but I'm looking forward to putting my feet up now,
spending plenty of time with the family and perhaps getting my golf
For many Welsh fans
yesterday was a dream come true as the Millennium Stadium hosted an
entire team of Welsh No 10s in dedication to Jenkins on his big day
Lining up in the Welsh
jerseys were several players who have played key figures throughout
Jenkins' career. Childhood friend Paul John, who he had played alongside
for more than 20 years, and Dale "The Chief" McIntosh
represented his unbreakable ties to Sardis Road.
Even David Bishop,
Nigel Davies and Paul Moriarty dusted the cobwebs off their boots to
take the field, while the likes of Scott Quinnell, Scott Gibbs and Rob
Howley embodied many of his greatest moments with Wales and the British
Finally the inclusion
of youngsters such as Lee Thomas and Mathew Nuthall represented the work
he did with the Celtic Warriors this season and pointed to a possible
future career coaching.
Howley and Quinnell
were both given an especially rousing reception by a crowd perhaps
hoping to convince them to return to the Millennium Stadium in the near
future for Wales, while even Jason Leonard, the scourge of so many Welsh
scrums in the past, was blessed with a fanfare entrance in
acknowledgement of his 114 caps.
But the day, quite
obviously was all about Jenkins and even the rugby, in truth, was
incidental to the sense of occasion.
Considering that the
age of several players matched their number of caps, and waist-line in
some cases, the game was played with an easy going spirit that produced
no fewer than 24 tries
It took a mere 61
seconds for the scoring to begin when Neil Boobyer scuttled over from
Chris Wyatt's pass after Howley and the man himself, Jenkins, relived
the old days by combining to launch a counter-attack from the halfway
Jenkins missed the
conversion, met with a mixture of surprise and humour, before banging
over 10 with the same methodical approach that smashed every record
That is why
under way with the Welsh Rugby Union about the possibility of coaching
but we will have to see what happens.
Argentina now so we will wait until they are back, but it would
something I would love to do."
Certainly all of those
at the Millennium Stadium yesterday will be hoping that they have not
seen the last of the man they affectionately called "The Ginger
Neil Jenkins XV: J
Thomas; N Boobyer, A Bateman, S Gibbs, R Mustoe; N Jenkins, R Howley; J
Davies, B Williams, B Evans, D McIntosh, C Wyatt, E Lewis, S Quinnell, E
Jason Leonard XV: K
Logan; N Beal, J Leslie, N Greenstock, J Sleightholme; P Burke, J
Grindall; J Leonard, D West, D Garforth, B Davison, K Chesney, K Jones,
A Vos, N Back.