Gough surprised to reach landmark

Ian Gough hopes to be handed the honour of leading Wales out ahead of Saturday's Grand Slam showdown with France at the Millennium Stadium to mark his 50th Test appearance - a grand occasion he thought would never arrive. [more]

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Ian Gough hopes to be handed the honour of leading Wales out ahead of Saturday’s Grand Slam showdown with France at the Millennium Stadium to mark his 50th Test appearance – a grand occasion he thought would never arrive.

Gough’s international career has been a classic roller-coaster ride since his debut in Wales’ record 96-13 defeat to South Africa in Pretoria a decade ago.

He missed out on both the 1999 and 2003 World Cups and the 2005 Grand Slam, making just one Test start in over three years before Mike Ruddock brought him back into the fold.

Since then, Gough has been a firm fixture in the Welsh second row and is an integral member of the Wales side under Warren Gatland.

"It’s going to be an amazing occasion," said Gough.

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"I never thought I would make it and it’s going to be special in a game of this magnitude. I’m sure I’ll relish it though, leading the team out has not been discussed but it would be nice.

"To get here is superb after my first cap back in 1998, which was the slaying by South Africa.

"I missed those World Cups but the downs have made me appreciate the highs more. Now it’s better than ever, the boys are playing superbly and it’s a happy camp, everything is great when you’re winning and there’s a lot of confidence."

Gough, 31, has been one of the players to most impress Gatland and his coaching sidekicks Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley since they began to put the squad through an intense new training regime.

Gough lost five kilograms in weight during the win over Italy and Edwards believes the Ospreys lock, alongside prop Gethin Jenkins, was Wales’ standout performer in the win over Ireland last weekend.

Howley explained: "Ian’s the heartbeat of the side. He has been absolutely outstanding. Since Warren has spoken about the work ethic you can see that, not only with the ball but without it.

"We’re delighted with his performances and he has been instrumental in our success."

The one moment which epitomises Gough’s commitment was when he suffered a ‘stinger’ injury to his neck against Ireland, but still staggered back into the line.

He played on with barely any treatment and his tackle on Rob Kearney set the platform for Shane Williams to score the decisive try as Wales won the Triple Crown.

Gough admitted: "I played on because I was frightened of Shaun! He says if you’ve got legs and can walk then you get back into the defensive line.

"Mark Jones had injured a hand in the first game and had a bit of flesh ripped out of him for not getting into the line."

Gough is expecting another ferocious encounter with the French pack on Saturday as Les Bleus attempt to spoil the Grand Slam party.

France can snatch the title from Wales’ grasp if they win by more than 20 points.

And while that has not happened in Cardiff since 2000, France are unbeaten at the Millennium Stadium in their last six visits.

That run includes the 2007 World Cup quarter-final win over New Zealand and 10 of the French squad for Saturday’s game were involved that day.

"I’ve never come up against a weak French pack, they’ve always had a hard steely edge and they always want to impose themselves," said Gough.

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