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Wales v France, Rugby World Cup semi-final, October 15
Jenkins hails class of 2011
ESPNscrum Staff
October 10, 2011
Wales' Gethin Jenkins charges towards the line, Namibia v Wales, Rugby World Cup, Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth, New Zealand, September 26, 2011
Gethin Jenkins drives into the Samoan defence during Wales pool victory earlier in the tournament © Getty Images
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Gethin Jenkins has hailed Wales' World Cup marvels as the best team he has played in during his 80-cap Test career.

The Cardiff Blues prop has performed a pivotal role in driving Wales towards a World Cup semi-final appointment with France at Eden Park on Saturday. Despite being sidelined by injury for most of 2011, he returned as a substitute during the pivotal Pool D victory over Samoa and then started the next three games, including the pulsating quarter-final win against Ireland two days ago.

Thirty-year-old Jenkins believes there can be little doubt where the current crop of players stand in terms of a Wales career that began for him nine years ago.

"Gats (Wales coach Warren Gatland) got me before last weekend's game and asked if I thought it was the best team I had played in," Jenkins said. "I said 'we will see on Saturday'. Afterwards, he asked me again, and I said 'yeah, it's got to be now'.

"Four years ago was very disappointing, losing to Fiji (at the last World Cup). We knew ourselves we weren't up to the task on that day. Things have changed in the last four years. We've had our highs and lows under Warren - the Grand Slam and then a few dips - but it's all about the players you are bringing through and the way players and their mindsets are developing.

"Everything is in place now. You've just got to bring your talent, your bit of skill to the team and bind it all together. Certainly for this current group of players (the France semi-final) is our biggest game. I'm sure there is a lot of hype at home, a lot of talk of people getting last-minute flights over here.

"Wales is a goldfish bowl for rugby. I don't think there is anyone who will get away from the fact there's a rugby match on Saturday. We knew Ireland was going to be a touch-and-go game, but we also knew if we played well that we could sneak a win.

"And France have shown over the years how good a team they are - they have beaten New Zealand and other top teams. We never have an easy game against France."

Key to Wales' World Cup success has been the consistency of their exciting young contingent, a group that has 23-year-old captain Sam Warburton at its forefront. Warburton has set standards on and off the pitch, producing repeated world-class performances and heading up a squad whose social activities have proved positively monastic when compared to some in New Zealand.

"There are a lot of them about," said Jenkins, assessing the young generation's impact. "It is all credit to them for the way they have handled themselves.

"Up until Saturday, they maybe hadn't experienced a situation like that where they had to perform at a big level with the pressure that was on us. But all the younger players really stood up and put us in good stead for this week. Everyone's heads were on before the game, and they took it all in their stride.

"We've had times now and again when we have been able to switch off, but we haven't really had an occasion when we've had the chance to go out and have a big drink or something. The schedule has been so intense we haven't really had much of an urge to go out.

"Things have been quiet, but we're tight as a squad and we will stick together and keep to the values we've got as a squad. That is not to say we haven't had a very enjoyable time out here in New Zealand. It is time and place, isn't it?

"We enjoy ourselves as a squad. It just depends where you do it and when you do it, I suppose."

Wales' arrival at the tournament's business end comes less than a year after they were held 16-16 at home by Fiji. But despite losing by a point in their World Cup opener against South Africa, they gained sufficient confidence and momentum to reel off four successive wins, scoring 186 points and 25 tries.

Equally as important as their free-scoring exploits, though, has been a miserly defence that restricted Ireland and Samoa to one try each, while Fiji suffered a total shut-out, losing 66-0.

"Shaun Edwards (Wales defence coach) has obviously been a big part of that," Jenkins added. "He is always nagging at the boys to do extras after sessions, which the boys are keen to do. It showed on Saturday.

"For 50 or 60 minutes we defended really well and Ireland started to look to their individual players to really take over. That was when our defence stepped up again. The fact we only conceded one try against Ireland is very pleasing. Defence is about a lot of communication and hard work, and there was a lot of that out there."

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