One player hoping his name will be on Matt O'Connnor's team when he names his Leinster side today is Shane Jennings. While the bulk of the international players were released from their training camp in Carton House on Tuesday, with a dozen or so following yesterday at lunchtime, both Leinster and Munster now know who is available to them and who is not.
Like Leinster, Munster will name their team for the derby match on St Stephen’s Day in Thomond Park today.
First away win
Jennings wasn’t involved when over 43,000 watched Munster secure their first away Pro12 win over Leinster for six years in Aviva Stadium back in November, where outhalf Ian Keatley kicked 21 points for his side’s 23-34 win.
Jennings had injured his hamstring, which kept him out a lot longer than expected. But his first match back last weekend after three months in rehab drew complimentary remarks from O’Connor. He has cause to be hopeful.
“I tore a hamstring against Connacht, I think it was the third game,” he says. “It was an impact and I hyper-extended my knee backwards and hamstring just kind of popped. It was a high grade two in medical terms, which was 8-10 weeks and it turned out to be 13.
Confidence “In the
eighth week when I was trying to get back for Treviso before the lead-in to Heineken Cup games it went again in a grade-one scenario [which is less serious], so it took 13 weeks to get right. I thought it was going to go at the weekend to be honest because I didn't have that much confidence in it, but thankfully it was very good."
Now 33, he is starting to realise that careers sometimes begin to accelerate towards their end and that efforts to grasp opportunities on the bigger stages such, Thomond Park against Munster, have to be grasped.
“When it’s taken away from you and you are on the outside and you’re looking at lads playing, it sort of solidifies the thoughts in your head that you enjoy it. You want to be back and you want to be involved. I’m coming to the end of my career, not that it’s going to be next year or this year but there are not many years left.
“I couldn’t run for about four or six weeks, so that was very frustrating. When you have a lot of time and you are thinking of everything and it’s ‘oh, what am I going to do?’, it made me realise that I really enjoy it and I want to play.”
In the last meeting between the provinces, scrumhalf Conor Murray won the man of the match award. Now one of Joe Schmidt's first picks, Murray is the type of player flankers regard with caution. Connacht's try-scoring Kieran Marmion was a thorn last week to Leinster and prior to that the Harlequins scrumhalf Danny Care.
“Hopefully he [Murray] won’t be playing,” says Jennings. “That’s the sort of respect I have for him. He’s dangerous, dangerous around the ruck and good at bringing players into the game, and his kicking, as we’ve all see over the past number of years, has improved and he’s very, very physical.
“If he is [playing], we are going to have to keep an eye on him and ensure our defensive structure is very good because we don’t want to give him opportunities.”
Leinster go into the match knowing that just a few months ago Munster were able to beat them up for a long stretch of the match and win the game despite having Murray,
and BJ Botha in the sin bin.
There was a second-half revival from the home side but Munster had done enough early damage to put the match out of reach.
"The last time we played them they beat us up," says Jennings. "They had a 20- or 30-minute period where they dominated us and that was the winning of the game for them. Knowing Anthony Foley and the way the Munster guys play, it's the old cliché, but they've a massive pride when they play in Limerick and play for Munster. We are going to have to improve on what we did last week.
“There’s a massive number of players who may not be available so by the time you get a game plan it’s going to be tough. But Munster are in the same position. It’s the way this game has been put there and that is the reality.”
Both coaches have come under some pressure and, with Munster third and Leinster fourth on the table, there are important points as well as bragging rights at stake.
Defeat for Munster would be four in a row and would equal their worst losing run. Despite well-aired Leinster issues, they maybe have most to lose.