- 28 Sep 07, 04:32 PM
Nantes - Honestly, who’d be a coach this weekend?
The knock-out phase of the World Cup is effectively under way and all the men who’ve picked the teams and formulated the game plans can do now is sit back and hope they’re smiling come Sunday evening.
Even though the chilly winds of autumn have arrived big time over here, Eddie O’Sullivan, Frank Hadden and Brian Ashton will all be feeling the heat over the next couple of days.
I’d venture to suggest none of them will feel it more than Gareth Jenkins.
Graham Henry has to win the prize for the least enviable job in world rugby at the moment. I hear even he’s getting it in the neck back home at the moment for the way the All Blacks are progressing through the tournament.
I’d nominate Jenkins for the runners-up spot, though. Just like Henry, or say Steve McClaren in the round-ball game, he’s in charge of a team who are a national obsession.
They care in England, Scotland and Ireland, but will victory or defeat stir the emotion quite as much as it will in Wales?
The thought struck me while I listened to news from the other camps during a chat on 5live on Thursday night.
It also struck me - while I sat next to my ISDN line in the basement of our hotel next to the laundry room and the ladies loo - that Andrew Cotter - reflecting on Scotland’s situation from a lively sounding pub called the Glasgow in St Etienne - had much the better gig.
Jenkins has a contract that takes him to the end of the next Six Nations, and whispers in and around the Welsh camp suggest he needs something special over the next fortnight or so in Nantes and Marseille to earn himself another one.
So much depends on the selection he’s made for Saturday. Is his continued loyalty to Dwayne Peel wise? Michael Phillips has said all the right things publicly over the last couple of days, but inwardly he must be seething.
Has Jenkins been right to ignore calls back in Cardiff to drop the lightweight Shane Williams for a quarter-final eliminator with some heavyweight South Sea Islanders? On the other wing, Mark Jones will be anxious to rediscover his best form as well.
And what about Ian Evans? He and Alun Wyn Jones may well develop into one of the finest second rows in the game over the next few years, but how bold for a coach - picking perhaps the most important team of his life - to start with someone who’s played precisely 28 minutes so far this year.
For what it’s worth, I can’t see Fiji upsetting the Welsh apple cart. They’ll bash some heads for a while and, with the likes of Ratuvou, Little, Rauluni and Rawaqa (who you might remember scored a fantastic try in Cardiff a couple of years ago), they’ve got individual ability to pose questions.
Their set-piece is a bit of a shambles, though. Wales are bound to target that area and secure plenty of possession.
It ought to be Wales’ day. It ought to be Gareth Thomas’s, on what he reckons will be the most emotional of his life. And it ought to be Gareth Jenkins’s day.
Surely Wales will be on the flight to Marseille rather than the one to Cardiff come Monday and the two Gareths can go through it all again next weekend.
Nick Mullins is a BBC Sport commentator on several sports and specialises in rugby union. He is covering Wales at the World Cup for Radio 5 live and you can see the station's full broadcast schedule here.