Shane Jennings keeps the home fires burning as he takes pride in the Leinster collective

The flanker knows it’s a squad game these days if you want success

Unfortunately the Ireland coaches have gone to ground after a long November so we turned to Shane Jennings in this moment of reflection before the congestion of European action envelopes us again.

Knee-jerk worriers about the culture permeating through Irish rugby would do well to pay heed.

It went largely unnoticed but while Ireland dragged the All Blacks into an alternative universe last Sunday, Leinster were quelling a rebellion in the outer reaches of their empire.

Shorn of 18 players, including Jennings, they came out the joyous side of a 21-20 result in Treviso.


In mournful contrast, Ireland got battered in the type of fight any type of Leinster side now tends to win.

“Those lads have had the tar kicked out of them for the last couple of years and not gotten a lot of credit when it has been a massive squad effort,” said Jennings of what lies beneath.

Names like Rhys Ruddock and Dominic 'Dippy' Ryan echoed around the room.

“Rhys and Dippy are quality blokes and those lads really understand it. They work bloody hard and they dedicate themselves to it.

“There’s just that desire . . . It’s unglamorous, but those are the matches that win you leagues. There is a joy in going over there even if people don’t think it’s that pretty. Going over to Newport or Treviso, they’re hard places to go and that builds character.

“Thankfully a lot of those lads are learning that because I remember going to those places a lot of the time and coming home with my backside kicked. It’s nicer to learn when you win rather than getting your head kicked in.”

Maybe Ireland will forever be chasing the All Blacks but the professional game in this country, while undoubtedly growing, has only entered puberty.

“I think the blokes nowadays are different. They are coming out [of school] physically developed . . . so they have a head start there.

“There is a knock on effect with us doing well here, people want to play for their clubs and schools.

“The thing we have to get right is the players coming through have to understand the culture and what it means to play for the club and the province.”

The counter argument is that such an environment can be overly sheltered. Jennings doesn’t even blink.

“If you are too sheltered then you won’t last and won’t be able to take your opportunity but thankfully there are guys putting up their hands and they are getting the balance right.”

Flight of the Earls
The other threat so clearly apparent is the Flight of the Earls syndrome. Jonathan Sexton's injury magnified this ongoing threat.

For the sake of career progression, Jennings felt compelled to leave Leinster for Leicester in 2005.

“I didn’t want to go. I was still crying in the car with my Mom and she’s saying ‘you’ll never be the same again.’ You can’t take away the fact that it’s not going to be emotional, leaving the club you wanted to play for all your life. The place where you’ve grown up, your city, your family, your friends. So it’s very tough.

“Like you said, it’s a professional decision and you’ve got to be man enough to make that. And whether it’s to develop as a player or for financial reasons, whatever, they’re tough decisions.

"It was very tough for me. When I went to Leicester for the first time, I met Pat Howard and he said, 'There's a contract, do you want to sign it?' And I was like, 'Ah, Jaysus Christ.' I only thought I was coming over to see the place."

But he signed it. Maybe that had something to do with the then Leinster coach dropping him before Leicester knocked them out of that season’s European Cup.

That coach never did truly invest him at international level – mainly because of David Wallace – but Leicester certainly did and Leinster got the real profit from it.

“To make that step, you really have to be ready for it. Looking back, it was the best thing that I ever did. Because I grew up and I got better.”

And two years later he came home.