Jennings ready to give French visitors plenty of 'respect'
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL'S restoration to the Leinster side that takes on Clermont at Lansdowne Road this evening was always going to dominate yesterday's team announcement.
Shane Jennings sat patiently alongside Joe Schmidt as the coach fielded question after question about the well-being of Ireland's captain (including a query as to whether O'Driscoll would be wearing a special gum-shield to protect his jaw) until, eventually, the openside flanker decided it was time to move on.
"Jeez, lads, Brian is fine!" he interjected humourously, drawing a line under the investigation.
Jennings is all about the task in hand which, this evening, involves pitting himself, for the second time in a week, against the might of the Clermont pack and their all-star back-row. It is has been often stated, but is worth repeating, how the return of Jennings and second-row Leo Cullen from the boot-camp environment of Leicester introduced a hard edge to the Leinster pack -- one that was instrumental in their Heineken Cup triumph in 2009 and recent supremacy over Munster.
In the Stade Marcel Michelin, Jennings was to the fore as the visitors fronted up to their physically superior opponents all over the park and the effectiveness of the operation was demonstrated by the comments of Clermont coach Vern Cotter to the Irish media afterwards.
Cotter said his players felt there was "a lack of respect" shown by the Leinster players and that they "felt aggrieved" at the visitors gamesmanship. As Schmidt has noted, this was undoubtedly done to fire up his own team as they seek to conquer their away-day demons and Jennings disputed Cotter's claims yesterday, in typical forceful style.
"Of course, we respect them," said Jennings. "They have a quality side. They came over here last year (for the Heineken Cup quarter-final) and played very well. If we were being honest about it, we probably didn't deserve to win.
"We gave them the respect they deserved, that was all. We will do the same again this week. We certainly haven't read into it or bought into it. If you show teams too much respect you are obviously beaten before you go there, so you have to get the balance right. We are just preparing as well as we can, doing our homework on those guys."
After their difficulties at the RDS in last season's quarter-final, Leinster's strength at scrum time seemed to catch Clermont off-guard and Jennings knows the importance of the set-piece again this evening.
"I'm sure they will have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about it this week. They do back themselves, like the majority of French packs," he said.
"They rate themselves in the scrum and they do have a good scrum. We realise we are certainly not the world's best scrum, but we are not the world's worst and we have done a bit of work on it this week. The eight of us have to work very hard again if we are to match them."
A turning point last weekend, occurred after 63 minutes when referee Wayne Barnes penalised Jennings for a double movement when he touched down for a 'try' that would have tied it up at 20-20.
The penalty allowed Clermont to relieve the pressure and hold on for the win, but Jennings is sanguine about the incident.
"It was a pick and go close to the line," he recalled. "I felt Mike Ross latching on to me. I got close and kind of fell. I thought there was a bit of pressure, but as soon as I didn't feel there was any pressure, I regained my balance and went again.
"I got on the line, but Wayne Barnes decided there was a double movement. These things happen and you move on. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let-off for them."