By David Roberts
Ken Owens will have cause for a double celebration today when he leads out the Scarlets at Rodney Parade in their final game of the regular season in this extraordinary Guinness PRO14 campaign.
Firstly, it will be the first time he has led his side since confirmation he would soon go into a record seventh season as captain.
Secondly, it will be his 250th appearance for the Scarlets, earning him Life Membership of the region.
It all began for ‘Captain Ken’ back on 11 August, 2006, when he packed down between Phil John and John Davies in a pre-season friendly against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
Nobody else from his debut game is still playing, but the Wales and British & Irish Lions hooker isn’t harbouring any thoughts of joining his first team mates on the sidelines any time soon.
“I’d love to play at the top end of the game as long as I can. I’m thinking about how I make the most of the rest of my career rather than thinking about when I might retire,” said Owens.
“I hope I can carry on playing well and continue at the top level. There are so many uncertainties in the world at the moment, you’ve just got to enjoy and make the most of every moment as much as you can.
“I’m going to take it day by day. They’ll have to come on and drag me off the pitch if I’m still going at 50.”
Saturday will see Owens reach a notable landmark, and join a legendary group of Llanelli and Scarlets Life Members, as he closes the gap on the all-time leader on the regional appearance chart, Phil John.
The other front row war horse played 298 times for the Scarlets to take his tally for club (Llanelli) and region (Scarlets) to 330.
Top of the charts is Wales lock Phil May with an amazing 552 appearances for Llanelli with prop Laurence Delaney next in line on 496. Ray Gravell played 481 times, Andy Hill 452, Phil Bennett 413 and Hefin Jenkins 406.
If you add in Owens’ 77 caps for Wales, two Tests for the Lions, four more outings on tour with the Lions and a game against an England XV for the Barbarians, his tally of professional matches will rise to at least 334 this weekend.
“It may be a long time ago that I made my first appearance for the Scarlets in Northampton, but I remember it as if it was yesterday,” he said.
“It’s a huge honour for me to play 250 games for my home region – it means a lot to me. I knew I wasn’t far away and the longest part has been the last three or four months, wondering whether it would actually happen.
2⃣5⃣0⃣ appearances for @scarlets_rugby
What an achievement. Llongyfarchiadau Ken! 🤠 pic.twitter.com/CAN8bvTxe4
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) August 28, 2020
“I’m not really sure what’s kept me going all these years. I’ve just tried to enjoy the game as much as I can.
“I like having a good bunch of boys to come into work with every day. The majority of us are from west Wales and we have grown up together.”
The Covid break may have been worrying for all rugby professionals, but it also gave Owens the chance to take a much needed break from training and playing after five seasons in which he made 45 international appearances for Wales and the Lions.
Now he is fit, fresh and firing again and can’t wait for this weekend and the European Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Toulon next month.
The 33-year-old Wales and Lions hooker was in reflective mood when he spoke to the media about the demands of the game.
“Last year’s World Cup campaign, with all the training camps, was really long and intense – physically and mentally with us reaching the semi-finals,” admitted Owens.
“I was physically tired by the end of the Six Nations this year, but mentally I was really drained. I was still enjoying playing at the weekends, especially at international level, but the day-to-day monotony of training meant I wasn’t always relishing the thought of coming in for that.
“It has been nice getting completely away from the game and spending some time at home. It has allowed you to refresh, reflect and set some new goals and targets.
“Now I’m enjoying waking up in the morning and getting down to training and having a laugh with the boys.”
KEN’S SCARLETS DEBUT
Scarlets 22 – 14 Northampton Saints – 11 August, 2006
Garan Evans; Dafydd James, Regan King, Gavin Evans, Darren Daniel; Ceiron Thomas, Dwayne Peel (captain); Phil John, Ken Owens, John Davies, Lou Reid, Scott MacLeod, James Bater, Gavin Thomas, Nathan Thomas.