Wales Rugby has had a difficult 2016. Numerous injuries and poor form have seen Warren Gatland’s side faced with the prospect of being a second tier side ahead of the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
With Gatland now away on British and Irish Lions duty, Rob Howley was tasked with leading Wales through the recent November test series against Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
Despite recording victories over Japan, Argentina and South Africa, it was the nature of the victories that have left fans feeling a little nervous about the Six Nations campaign, set to kick-off in eight weeks’ time.
Now, in the aftermath of the November tests and the return of players to the club sides, it has come to light that Wales captain Gethin Jenkins looks set to become another key player at risk of missing not only the entire Six Nations campaign but also the British and Irish Lions tour in New Zealand.
Reported by Wales Online, Jenkins has suffered a bicep injury that could require surgery and will keep the 36-year-old loosehead prop out of action for three months.
Having taken over the captaincy from Sam Warburton, Jenkins oversaw the recent tests with Argentina, Australia and South Africa and looked set to continue in the role for the Six Nations. Now with his participation all but ruled out, Wales will likely turn to fellow veteran Alun Wyn Jones.
The 31-year-old lock is currently regarded in some circles as a dark horse for the Lions captaincy and is a very strong alternative captain for Wales.
For Jenkins it is now a race against time. At 36 he is likely entering the final seasons of an illustrious career and with a Lions tour of New Zealand within reach, he will be eager to get back to playing as soon as possible.
On paper, Jenkins’ absence from Wales’ Six Nations preparations is just another name in a long list of key figures who will not be available in February.
Head coach Gatland has been joined by backs coach Rob Howley on the Lions coaching ticket. George North faces an uncertain future following yet another head injury last week. Dan Lydiate is also another serious concern following a knee ligament injury suffered against South Africa last month and scrum-half Rhys Webb is set to miss the Six Nations following an ankle injury sustained against Australia.
All in all, Wales are now a seriously denuded side ahead of the Six Nations. While still a strong squad, absences and injuries will seriously curtail title aspirations, particularly against sides that all progressed and impressed during the November series of test matches.
With dreams of a Lions tour gone for some and fading for others, Jenkins is the one set to lose the most. While his injured Wales colleagues all have time on their side, 2017 will be the final chance for the Welshman to secure another place in the Lions squad.
Right now, things don’t look good for the man from Llantwit Fardre.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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