Jennings ready to turn the bad into good
PRO12 LEINSTER v MUNSTER:HOW TO turn bad into good has been a theme running though Leinster rugby this week. In their seasonal terms of reference there was little mention of Connacht blowing a hole beneath the water line and running in five tries.
On the positive side, teacher turned coach Joe Schmidt can take the holistic view and embrace a school-of-hard-knocks type of education for some of his younger players. Never before in their short careers have they seen five going past like that. Even the seasoned Shane Jennings was surprised.
“We’ll all learn from it because that was one of the worst games I’ve ever been involved in,” he says. But rugby being what it is, he could find a solution this weekend in the form of Munster to make the Connacht trauma less of a long term issue.
Leinster are also well versed in the cliché that it’s not how you start but how you finish seasons and Jennings believes a little honesty with each other should solve some of the problems when Leinster line out in Aviva on Saturday.
“I think something as basic as system errors in defence ... I made a mistake that I would usually back myself not to make, and you can’t do that,” he says.
“If you make a mistake and you’ve got good players playing against you, they’ll open you up and you’ll pay for it, and we did that on a number of occasions. So if we cut down on those mistakes that will lead to a more solid defence, and that will certainly be one way we can improve.”
The unbeaten PRO12 record in Aviva is something the Leinster team will want to preserve and with the first round of matches in their Heineken Cup defence hovering in the background, the danger of the Connacht hurt being compounded by more pain from Munster could bring on longer term consequences and make a muck of the season around D4. The imperative is to turn around performances quickly and it seems ludicrous to think but Munster will be a last chance saloon for Leinster to get it right before the Exeter Chiefs arrive looking for a scalp.
“We haven’t played as well as we should have, we haven’t done things in games as well we could have done and we need to improve on that. We feel if we can do that, it will go towards a better performance,” says Jennings.
“And then on a personal side, players have to take responsibility and not let this happen because as much as Joe feels under pressure, the players are under pressure because no-one wants to do well as much as players.
“But the reaction’s been good since the weekend and it’s going to be a good game because Munster are looking for the same performance as well. It’s going to make for a good game.”
Jennings rolled his ankle in the game against Connacht but trained fully on Tuesday with no reaction. He’s available for selection against a team he has seen change dramatically over the years, not least of all in the backrow position where Anthony Foley, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan were imposing Mount Rushmore figures that seemed to have been there for ever. The new faces may not carry the same freight or package of international caps but nor are they rookies likely to buckle in the Aviva.
“Like any backrow in a strong set-up like Munster or Leicester or Wasps over the years, there was always six or seven good backrows who were playing,” says Jennings. “I played with James (Coughlan) at schools level and I always knew how good he was when we played with or against each other at under-21s, schools or 19s.
“It’s the same with us at Leinster. We have six or seven talented backrow players but that process just happens. For years guys like Denis (Leamy) and Wally (David Wallace) and Quinny (Alan Quinlan) and Anthony Foley had their positions pretty solid but it is these new guys’ opportunity. Guys like Niall (Ronan) who was up at Leinster. We know how good he is.
“They have evolved into a good backrow but they still play the same that the likes of Leams and those guys did years ago. They are confrontational and physical at the breakdown and have a very good skill level as well, whether it is in the line or out in the loose. It’s a good challenge for us.”
The guts of a month and a half into the season and the mini-crisis will have Schmidt in anxiety mode and the players lacking certainty in their performances. But in an odd way the Munster threat may drive a performance from the home team. If not, well, it might not be pretty in the Aviva.