Friday 18 August 2017

Jennings' fond memories of day Miller lit Blue touchpaper

David Kelly

David Kelly

To think it all began with a well-aimed kick to Anthony Foley's genitals.

It is one of the sport's youngest but most intense rivalries. Effectively, the birth of modern inter-provincial rivalry between Munster and Leinster began just a decade ago when Lansdowne Road was still the stadium that time forgot.

Just a couple of years after a mere 300 pitched up in Dooradoyle to witness the same fixture, a seasonally soused December invasion of some 30,000 attended the inaugural Celtic League final.

One of their intrigued number was a fledgling back-row dynamo and young Leinster squad member, Shane Jennings. What unfolded engendered enough sparks to light the blue touchpaper to a rivalry that has enthralled Ireland ever since.

"I was in the squad, sitting in the stand with a few of the lads watching it," recalls Jennings. "It was a huge game for Leinster, I had been going to the games throughout school, going on Friday nights and things like that.

"Then, obviously, I was part of the squad and then training with guys in the back-row like Victor Costello, Eric Miller, Keith Gleeson. There was good quality back then."

The game turned on a memorable incident when, without any apparent reason other than perhaps an unwitting desire to launch a storied enmity, Miller aimed a size 10 at Foley's nether regions. Miller was sent off and the rivalry rocketed.

"I remember Eric went and kicked Anthony Foley in the nuts and got sent off. When you look back, you do with fond memories," smiles Jennings.

Rivalry

"Lads like Victor who played would say the rivalry was as big leading up to that game as it had been for years, but that was my introduction to it properly."

After Miller's 25th-minute dismissal, a wind-aided Munster forged a nine-point lead in the second half, a sledging Ronan O'Gara goading Leinster winger Denis Hickie to chase his booming touch-finders.

But second-half tries from Gordon D'Arcy -- one of only four starters (Paul O'Connell and O'Gara from Munster and Leinster's Leo Cullen are the other three) from that day set for a reprise this evening -- and Shane Horgan transformed Leinster's challenge.

When the Leinster coach ran maniacally up and down the pitch upon the final whistle, copyright celebrations later shamelessly pilfered by Jose Mourinho, Munster players privately vowed revenge.

And so it has remained ever since.

Leinster's recent extraordinary five-game winning streak, denying their rivals even the consolation of a try, has been mitigated somewhat by a brace of Munster wins -- notably including last May's Celtic League final -- seven days after Leinster lifted the Heineken Cup.

Hence the much-publicised "clash of champions", which is virtually sold out this evening; the expected 46,000-plus attendance will easily surpass the World Cup quarter-final between Ireland and Wales.

Sadly for most enthusiasts eager to put that despair behind them, tonight's sporting theatre will represent Hamlet without the Prince. As expected, Ireland's World Cup captain that day, Brian O'Driscoll, is a noticeable absentee from the remaining internationals who will return to the Leinster side this evening.

O'Driscoll is still having treatment on the worrying stinger injury sustained during the World Cup; tonight will be fraught with enough anxiety as it is without further testing his upper body.

Hence, Fergus McFadden makes one of his rare appearances as stand-in alongside Gordon D'Arcy, opposite Munster's largely untested new signing Will Chambers, who partners Lifeimi Mafi.

Jennings' back-row display will arouse much interest, particularly as Munster's trio appear to be an underwhelming collective, as form pair Peter O'Mahony and James Coughlan have been inexplicably benched.

Although Munster will expect interest to accrue from their improving set-piece, Leinster should have too much in their locker for a fixture that this time last year kick-started their successful campaign.

In contrast, Munster's season went south in that fixture's immediate aftermath, coughing up defeat to London Irish which initiated their miserable Heineken Cup campaign.

Munster's need is less acute and hunger predominantly dictates the flow of nights like these.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster -- R Kearney; I Nacewa, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Reps: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, K McLaughlin, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Madigan, E O'Malley.

Munster -- J Murphy; D Howlett, W Chambers, L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), D Ryan, N Ronan, D Leamy.

Reps: D Fogarty, M Horan, J Hayes, P O'Mahony, J Coughlan, T O'Leary, I Keatley, D Barnes.

Ref -- P Gauzere (FFR).

Irish Independent

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