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Gethin's game: Six Nations triumph in 2005 was my finest moment... but I still regret my Lions low; RUGBY UNION.

Byline: Simon Thomas Rugby correspondent simon.thomas@walesonline.co.uk

GETHIN JENKINS has had an extraordinary career. He's won a record 126 caps for Wales, started five Tests for the Lions, won three Grand Slams and two European cup trophies with different clubs. Now as he prepares to embark on his testimonial year, he has sat down with WalesOnline to reflect on his playing days, picking out his favourite matches, his toughest opponent, his biggest regret and his best friends in the game.

Favourite game for the Blues I would probably say Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in 2009. We only won 9-6 but it was a hell of a performance from us.

They were a pretty good team at the time, so to keep them to six points was a big deal. It was the first home quarter-final we had and it was in the Millennium Stadium. I would have said the semi-final that year against Leicester if we hadn't missed two kicks in the penalty shoot-out because that was an amazing comeback. But it obviously wasn't meant to be.

Favourite game for Wales The 30-3 win over England in 2013 was pretty special, especially as I was made captain. My calf was wrecked, as usual, and it was strapped up to the max. It was an incredible victory.

But I would have to go for the Grand Slam game against Ireland in 2005, just because of the history for the nation. Even though we won the title in 2008, 2012 and 2013, you will never get the same atmosphere and reaction as that day. It was the first Gland Slam for 27 years. That's the best game I played in, the best atmosphere around town and it's something I'll always remember. The whole nation was just going mental. It was a bit like the Euros with the Wales football team this summer. One thing I really remember from that game is the crowd, with two minutes to go when we were more than seven points up. A lot of times in games, you never notice the crowd.

You obviously know they are there, but it's peripheral. But with two minutes to go when we were defending, all you could hear was the crowd chanting 'Wales, Wales'. That's the one big memory I have from the game, apart from the try I scored. You could hear how much it meant to the nation.

Best player played with I would have to say Taulupe Faletau. He's unbelievable. You just look at him and think how is he doing it. One minute he will be walking alongside you and next thing he'll be 60 meters up the field making a break and doing an off-load.

He's definitely one of the most skilful I've ever played with and he just plays every game. He's just got a natural engine on him. He's so fit and agile, he doesn't miss any games. He plays 80 minutes every week.

He's just keeps going and going and going.

There have obviously been boys I have played with who were class, like Martyn Williams, who would be the same sort of stature.

Best player played against I would have to say Carl Hayman. He was just a massive man, but with the ability to get in such good a body position. Until I actually played with him at Toulon, I didn't realise how much work he does around the field as well. The amount of tackles he make in a game is unbelievable. He is just a top a bloke as well.

Best try scored I don't score many tries, so 2005 against Ireland was probably the one I remember most, because it was such a big day for the nation.

People often ask me about the way I celebrated (by throwing the ball at Ronan O'Gara). I thought he stood on my hand, but he didn't, it was from the charge down. That's the big one that sticks in my mind. Everything was just a blur after that. It was such a great day and such a great week after for the nation.

Best tackle made The one the boys always talk about is off a kick-off against Toulouse, but I would probably say one on Carlos Nieto, the Gloucester prop, in the Heineken Cup in 2008. There is a bit of a thing on You Tube with three hits on there. You can choose one of them!

Biggest disappointment Not winning a Lions Test. Martyn Williams always reminds me that he has won more Lions Tests than me, even though he's only started one! We lost all three in New Zealand in 2005 and then I missed the third Test victory in South Africa through injury and I didn't get to play in Australia in 2013 because I had to pull out of the tour with of my calf . So I am still waiting for my first Lions Test win.

Biggest regret It would from the second Lions Test against South Africa in 2009 when I had to come off with a fractured cheekbone. I know it's something I can never change, but I always think should I have gone a bit lower in the tackle. Bryan Habana ran in between myself and Brian O'Driscoll. I went high, so did O'Driscoll and his head knocked into my cheekbone. I know it's something you can never really change, but I always regret not going lower. It was 50 minutes into the game. The week before had been tough because it was at altitude, but I felt like I had got used to it and I'd got a second wind and was really flying. Then for that to happen was a big blow. Being in hospital then and hearing the news that we'd lost the game in the last minute was really frustrating.

Influential captains Paul Tito was a great captain. I learned a lot off his character. He might not have been the biggest or strongest of players, but he was a clever player and a clever captain. Then you have got someone got Joe van Niekerk, a different type of character, a really inspiring bloke. He's probably the complete opposite to me, the most friendly, in your face, adrenalin, constant 24-7 guy. You always thought he was up to his eyeballs in caffeine, but he was a great leader. Then you had Jonny Wilkinson alongside him, speaking in both languages as he's giving the team talk. People like that you take a little bit off every one of them and you build towards being a better captain.

Best friend in rugby That's hard, because you get to know someone and then they move on.

You get a lot of friends in rugby, but then lose them. I am still quite close with Richie Rees and Martyn Williams. Most of the boys I was at the Blues with from 2006 to when I left in 2011, they are the main ones, Richie, Martyn, Tom Shanklin, Rhys Thomas, people like that.

Biggest character played with By a long way, Lou Reed. He's worth having round the place just for his value. He just can't sit down. We will be having lunch and he will be walking round for an hour just entertaining different people. He's a crazy bloke.

Gethin Jenkins' testimonial year is being supported by the WRU and Cardiff Blues and gets underway in September.

CAPTION(S):

<B Gethin's ultimate joker in the pack, 'character' Lou Reed

<B Gethin's favourite try from his favourite game; that Slam clincher against the Irish in March, 2005

<B With a host of Cardiff rugby legends pictured behind, fittingly including himself, Gethin Jenkins looks ahead to a richly deserved testimonial
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 16, 2016
Words:1294
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