Suspended Jennings to miss Wasps showdown

 

RUGBY:IRELAND AND Leinster flanker Shane Jennings will miss his side's critical round five Heineken Cup Pool match against London Wasps on January 17th and the final pool game in Dublin against Edinburgh seven days later following last night's IRFU Disciplinary Panel decision.

Jennings was cited for punching during Leinster's win over Connacht in the Magners League last Friday night at the RDS, Dublin. The citing was upheld by the Disciplinary Panel and the player received a three weeks' suspension which will end at midnight, Tuesday, January 27th, two days after Leinster's final pool fixture.

Depending on the outcome of both matches, it could mean that the Irish backrower might miss Leinster's remaining Heineken Cup games in this season's competition.

While Jennings received a punitive and costly suspension, his frontrow colleague John Fogarty, who was also prosecuted under the law governing punching, 10.4, received just a one-week forced lay off. Fogarty's ban will therefore end on midnight, Tuesday the 13th, which is several days before Leinster travel to Twickenham for a match that, if they can win, would propel them into the quarter-finals of the competition. He will however miss this week's Magners League match.

Munster prop Freddie Pucciariello was also cited for kicking during Munster's shock defeat to Ulster in Thomond Park last week. The frontrow was deemed to have breached laws 10.4 (c) and 10.4 (k) and the citing was upheld. However, the disciplinary panel did not feel that the exact incident would have warranted a red card during the game, so no suspension was given to the player and he is available to play this week in Munster's top-of-the-table Magners League clash away to the Ospreys on Friday night.

It is believed Jennings' breach of the rules occurred in an off-the-ball incident, while Fogarty's indiscretion was in reaction to foul play perpetrated on him and although he was seen by most of the 16,000 strong crowd at the RDS to have thrown a number of punches in retaliation, it is understood that no subsequent injury resulted to any Connacht player.

For coach Michael Cheika, Fogarty's relative escape is a blessing, while Jennings' forced rest is a clear blow to Leinster fielding their strongest team.

The only glimmer of light in Jennings missing out on what is Leinster's biggest match of the season is Cheika has some quality back row cover at his disposal. Although players such as 21-year-old Seán O'Brien are inexperienced at the higher level of Heineken Cup competition, his performances for Leinster, when given the chance, have been highly impressive, both in his ball-carrying ability, running and in the contact area.

Had Fogarty been suspended for the Heineken Cup meeting with Wasps, Leinster may have had something of a crisis at hooker. Bernard Jackman is currently recovering from knee problems and hopes to be available for the fifth round match but at this stage it is far from certain he will have recovered sufficiently to even make it to London as a bench player. Brian Blaney would have been the obvious cover but a bench hooker might have been a problem for Cheika.

Indeed South African prop and hooker, 35-year-old Ollie Le Roux, who is back in South Africa (ostensibly to manage his sizeable family chicken ranch), remains registered for Leinster in the Heineken Cup and might have been the first choice back-up if Fogarty had received a three-week ban.

Last week's back row against Connacht consisted of Australian Rocky Elsom at blind side flanker, Jennings at open side flanker and Stephen Keogh at number eight. Regular number eight, Jamie Heaslip, was being rested and O'Brien came off the bench as a second half replacement.

There was no comment from Leinster officials last night but there is an appeal process available if they wish to go down that road.