Wing Jenkins, who was his country’s highest try-scorer on the World Rugby Sevens Series last season, is in camp with the Men of Gwent in readiness for their Celtic Cup campaign which starts a week Friday in Connacht. He’s been joined by sevens teammate Ben Roach, who also featured for the Dragons in 2017/18.
“It’s been really good,” says the 26-year-old from Ynysybwl. “I knew quite a lot of the boys already, so that made settling in pretty easy, although it’s quite tough getting back up to speed with 15s. It’s been four years since I was last part of a 15s set-up, but I’m getting there now.
“There are things you have to adjust to. For example, having fewer opportunities to get your hands on the ball in 15s, you’ve got to make sure you’re accurate in what you do when that chance does come around.”
Training at the impressive Ystrad Mynach facilities seems to be just as tough as those infamous lung-busting sevens sessions. “The workload is similar. [Director of Rugby] Dean Ryan wants the Dragons to play fast and intense rugby, so training has matched that. We’re covering similar distances and high speeds as we would in a sevens session.”
According to Jenkins, the temporary change of scenery has had the desired effect. “One of the main reasons I wanted to do this pre-season was that it’s been a long while since I was last involved in 15s, so it’s beneficial to mix things up a bit. I feel refreshed mentally and that’s one of the many positives I’m taking from this opportunity.”
The experience is something of a win-win for Jenkins, who’s only ten tournaments shy of his 50th World Series appearance – a feat achieved by his good friend Adam Thomas two seasons ago. The game of sevens received a big boost this week with England’s World Cup selection of Ruaridh McConnochie, who made a rapid transition from the World Series to life in the English Premiership and is now booked in for Japan 2019.
“I know him a little bit from training with Team GB in 2016, and he’s a nice guy,” says Jenkins. “It just shows what the sevens programme can do. In Wales, over the last two years we’ve seen how valuable it can be with the achievements of Sam Cross and Luke Morgan. It accelerates player development and you can see how quickly they’ve adjusted to life in 15s. It bodes well for sevens.”
For now, though, Jenkins is just happy mixing it with a lot of familiar faces. “It’s been fun training with guys I’ve played alongside at various stages of my career,” says Jenkins, who gained a BSc (Hons) in Sports and PE from Cardiff Met last year. “I’ve played with Roachie, James Benjamin, Jared Rosser and Will Talbot-Davies in sevens, and boys like Jordan Williams, Sam Davies and Rhodri Williams with Wales U20 – it’s great to have everyone here.”
With the benefit of this unique insight into the region, he believes Dragons fans have plenty to be excited about for the future. “You listen to what Dean Ryan and [defence coach] Simon Cross say, and you see the talented players within the region, and you realise there’s no reason why Dragons can’t kick on and achieve good things.”