Jennings in Euro mix for Brive clash as Cheika enjoys rich pickings
Published 13/01/2010 | 05:00
Shane Jennings could be in line for an instant recall to Heineken Cup action on Saturday despite his lengthy suspension-induced absence from the game, according to Leinster coach Michael Cheika.
Jennings has not played since the IRB's global rush to eradicate eye-gouging from the sport began, with the flanker receiving a 12-week ban for making contact with the eye area of London Irish second-row Nick Kennedy last October.
Jennings was due to captain the Leinster side against Glasgow last weekend but the weather havoc scuppered his return. However, Cheika hinted yesterday that he may be in line to face Brive and supplant the hitherto more-than-adequate substitute, Sean O'Brien.
"We have a lot of difficult decisions to make in regard to selection," admitted Cheika. "Shane is obviously a quality campaigner and he's important to our team with regard to leadership.
"Sean O'Brien has done an unbelievably good job. Now we have to look at the options of playing them together, playing them separately, giving them game time, or letting them battle it out for the peak games, so it is difficult.
"It's difficult because you have to leave one out of the starting line-up at this stage. I don't think we'd play the two of them together at this point, so that's where it becomes difficult. But alternatively, from a team perspective, it's brilliant to have two players of that quality."
The minor consolation for a club still livid at what they feel was a harsh punishment laid down by ERC chiefs was Jennings' chance to do some upskilling in the warmer Australian climes. Whether he is match-fit is another issue.
"You never know until the games come but he's trained really hard and whether he plays from the start or from the bench, he'll be blowing in the first five minutes," smiled Cheika. "That's guaranteed. And you know, he's just gotta have to fight through that to get his match fitness up as soon as possible."
The latter comment may hint that Jennings may start from the bench, especially given the vital importance of next week's return clash with London Irish, against whom Leinster were thoroughly outplayed at the breakdown in October's 12-9 defeat.
"I definitely would have preferred to have both Shane and Jonny Sexton to have had some game time under their belts, no doubt about it, for Jennings even more than Sexton. Both of the players that took their places have played well, so it makes selection issues quite difficult."
CJ Van Der Linde also completed a full training session yesterday -- Leinster only lost one training day during the inclement weather -- but again his impact this week is likely to be from the bench.