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JENKINS IS THRIVING ON PHYSICAL CHALLENGE.

Byline: Simon Thomas

GETHIN JENKINS turned 29 this week and it would be understandable if he were feeling a bit long in the tooth after the month he's had.

Having returned ahead of schedule following post-Lions shoulder surgery, the Wales prop has had no gentle, easy-does-it comeback.

Instead, he's had four full-on 80 minute games of rugby - and not just any ordinary games at that.

After being thrust straight back in to skipper the Blues in their crucial Heineken Cup clash away to Sale, he retained the captaincy for the high-profile Welsh derby showdown with Ospreys.

And then it was the little matter of taking on the All Blacks - where he packed down on both sides of the scrum - followed by another bruisingly physical encounter against Samoa last Friday.

Not that it gets any easier now, with an appointment with the mighty Argentine scrummaging machine lying ahead at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

"It's been tough," admits the Lions loose-head, reflecting on his comeback trail.

"I've been all right in the first half of the games and lung-wise I've been breathing OK and getting round the field.

"But I'm finding my legs are going after 60-70 minutes just because I'm not used to the intensity.

"Even in training you are looking round and thinking 'Is it only me who's tired here?' because you are not used to the intensity of the week's training and then playing the game.

"You can do as much rehab and gym work as you like, but there's nothing like playing the game. The last two matches have been pretty fast and intense.

"Ideally I would have liked to have had three or four games before playing the likes of the All Blacks or Samoa, but that wasn'the case and I always knew it was going to be like that.

"It's just nice to be out there playing for your country and you give your all.

"If you get dragged off, then fair enough, but the coach has kept me on the field for 80 minutes in both, so I'm glad of the match time, to be honest."

Jenkins had spent almost four months on the sidelines after suffering cheekbone and shoulder damage in the brutal second Lions Test against South Africa in June.

He had originally been expected to miss the bulk of Wales' autumn campaign after undergoing surgery to repair his dislocated shoulder, but so rapid was his recovery that he was able to return in the middle of last month for the Blues' Euro encounter with Sale.

Given that Jenkins' game is based so much around the way he puts his body on the line in defence, there must have been a few anxious moments as he went in for that first hit at Edgeley Park.

"It was always a concern, but I was made captain first game back, so that took a lot of the attention away," he explained.

"I wasn't thinking about my shoulder so much. It was more thinking about leading the team and the responsibility of that.

"And once I got through that game the confidence in the shoulder got better and better and it doesn't really bother me any more."

However, as he enters his final pre-30s year, he does admit that the huge physical toll of the modern-game day is catching up with him to an extent.

"The body feels like it's getting older," he said.

"It's harder to recover from the games. I'm taking two days at least to recover from an international.

"It is a tough ask and I've got two tough games as soon as I get back with the Blues, so it's a tough period."

Tough is also a suitable word to describe the scrummaging challenge that lies ahead tomorrow, with Senors Scelzo, Roncero and Ledesma lying in wait.

"Argentina have a very experienced front row, everyone realises that," said Jenkins, who will win his 71st cap this weekend.

"For someone like Marcus Ayerza, who is one of the form players in the English Premiership, not to be in the team shows how much strength they've got.

"We respect that and we know we've got to put a big performance in ourselves.

"But we have players which can cope with that area of the game (the scrum). I'm sure we can compete in that area and really disrupt them."

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Gethin Jenkins is put through his paces during training
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 20, 2009
Words:737
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