Shane Jennings thrilled to be leading out the Baa Baas against Ireland
Veteran Leinster flanker looking forward to a special occasion in Limerick
Shane Jennings: “We have to respect the tradition, and we have to do it justice.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
By rights they are an anachronism which should have been one of the amateur game’s first casualties with the advent of professionalism. But somehow the Barbarians are still going strong, perhaps because they are such a cherished link with times past.
“Shocked”, “honoured” and “excited” in equal measure after being asked to captain a Barbarians’ side containing nine different nationalities with 466 Tests between them for tomorrow’s game against Ireland in Thomond Park, Shane Jennings yesterday referred back to the Baa Baas’ illustrious, throw-it-around past when he was an impressionable nipper.
Recalling again “coming home from school and putting on 101 best tries for about five years, instead of doing my homework and I remember all these tries from that generation where I got an appreciation for it.” He also recalled running onto the Lansdowne Road pitch after the Peace International to obtain the autographs of Jonah Lomu and a boyhood idol, French flanker Laurent Cabannes.
“You’re just seeing all of these quality players coming together and they played in the spirit of the way the Barbarians want to play it, playing hard but also trying to enjoy one another’s company, enjoying different cultures and people coming from all around the world,” added Jennings. “We have to respect the tradition, and we have to do it justice.”
“I couldn’t care where I played to be honest. I have had good battles over the years with Munster in Thomond Park. They have good days and bad days but I would play in Kenilworth Square with the Baa Baas, it doesn’t bother me.”
A quick glance around the splendour of the squad’s base in the Adare Manor also illustrates the attractiveness of the Baa Baas’ brand, and the same is evidently true for Baa Baas’ coach, Robbie Deans.
“For me it captures everything that is great about this game, about rugby. It is genuinely international. The thing that is unique to rugby is that if you are a rugby player you can go anywhere in the world and doors will open. You are made welcome, simply because you play the game.”
“ I don’t know if there’s another code that has that, to that extent. And the Barbarians are a living example of it. Internationals come together and straight away connect and celebrate their points of difference. And most importantly celebrate what the game is all about.
“And that challenge of bringing a diverse group together is very much what rugby is about. It involves all shapes and sizes, different backgrounds. . .”
In any case, he said it would be a testing work-out for Ireland ahead of the World Cup, where he said Joe Schmidt’s squad “are capable of going the whole way”.
“They’ve shown that. There’s only one side they haven’t beaten and that’s the All Blacks, but they should have last time out. Like any team they would need luck, especially with injuries,” said Deans.
“They’ve got more depth now, they’re fitter and they’re enjoying the innocence of the climb, if you like, but they’ve got some old heads steering it. They look great.”
Similarly his former charges, Australia, “are capable of anything” now that they have more depth and experience than when he was their coach.
“In 2011 the Wallabies were the youngest combination at the World Cup. In many ways, 2015 was always going to be their time. They’ve got a lot more depth now and they’ve added some serious X-factor elements but also some substance.”
Deans confirmed he would not be succeeding the departed Matt O’Connor at Leinster.
Asked if there had been any contact from Leinster, Deans smiled and said: “Indirectly.”
In any case, he is committed to remaining at the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan.
The Kiwi ex-Crusaders and Wallabies coach said Leinster are “probably one of the plum jobs because it is well-resourced. It is well-supported and it has just got everything going for it. So from a coach’s perspective, an aspiring coach, I would imagine there would be a lot of interest.”
Just, seemingly, not from Deans, which makes Jonno Gibbes and Ewen McKenzie the new favourites. But Leinster’s search could take a while and there may be more twists yet.