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Shane plots Air' strike

Sunshine. A new city to visit. Escaping Dublin City with the promise of a long weekend beckoning.

Theoretically speaking, weekends tend not to get any better, but for Shane Jennings and the rest of the Leinster squad Saturday afternoon's trip to Aironi, one of the new Italian sides enjoying their first season in the Magners League, represents an important test.

Talk to Jennings about tests this week and he is effusive in his praise of the Italian franchise. Delve a little deeper and he references the sometimes arduous weeks when he battled to regain full fitness after knee surgery.

Probe further and he explains that the grim spectre of third level assessment this week also loomed as part of a business course with Business and Training Solutions Ireland.

Yes, you could say that the soon-to-be 30-year-old knows a thing or two about examinations. 'Alas, if only it were the summer', he could be forgiven for thinking.


In a rugby context, however, don't be fooled. Having missed two months of action he is gunning for games, with the nature of competition dictating that each passing week represents an opportunity to impress.

Last Saturday's display mirrored a start, as he sees it. And the challenge is now to push on and keep on asking questions of himself.

"It was a strange old game," the Ireland wing forward reflected earlier this week.

"We started well and it was a great boost to have secured the bonus point before half-time.

"We didn't waste our energy and we were quite effective with the ball. I thought that our set-piece was quite good at times, but our defence was sloppy as the game went on and that is one area that we have been focusing on improving this week.

"Thankfully we won, but we would be foolish to think it was a complete performance from our end, because it clearly wasn't."

Jennings' delight with the five-point haul also mirrored a sense of relief at his own return to action.

"I was delighted to get nearly 80 minutes under my belt and if I'm honest I thought that I would have been hurting on Sunday" he said. "But the body felt fine and there was no adverse reaction, thank God.

"Whenever you're out injured you do get frustrated, at times, because often there can be more tough days than good. I mean, some days you're flying in your rehab and you can think you can take on the world and you want to push yourself further, but that can do more damage.

"So at times like that you just have to trust the medical team, fitness coaches and conditioning coaches who plan out the path of your recovery. We're fortunate here at Leinster that we have an excellent support staff in that regard, so it has been a bit of a long haul, but it's great to be back."

This weekend Leinster travel to previously uncharted waters in the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella arena in Viadana.

With temperatures set to hit the mid-20s, it promises to provide a sweltering afternoon's play -- on and off the field.

Italy, as a rugby nation, Jennings attests, has steadily improved in recent years and he believes that the prospect of facing Aironi will be treated the same as any other side on the road.

"The great thing about the Magners League this year is the huge competition amongst all the teams," he says.

"You only have to look at the top half of the league table to prove that.

"Aironi are a new team, yes, but they are also skilful and physical, so we are under no illusion that they will ask questions of us. They have huge men in their pack and a classy backline who can punish you with the ball in hand.

"Nick Williams is a quality ball-carrier and if we're not sharp in our set-piece then they can hurt us. Certainly nobody in the Leinster camp is thinking of this as an easy day.

"Our aim this week is the same as it would be for any other game; to get a lot of hard work done on the training field and in our analysis and to get our preparation work done on our opponents. Nothing changes in that regard from week to week for us."

Jennings believes that the knockout nature of the closing games in the league will bring about their own unique Cup intensity.

With three of the coveted top-four places still up for grabs -- with Munster having already booked their spot in the play-offs -- the team, he says, are determined to drive on with desire and ruthlessness.

"It's a new departure for Leinster this weekend, but things like the warmer climate or the extra travel don't come into the equation," he says. "Most of the lads prefer to play Friday night or Saturday games because it helps you get into a routine.

"So, ok it's an extra couple of hours travelling, but we have worked very hard to get into this position and we don't want to let up at this stage. It's exciting. We're looking to get a home semi, but there's a lot of work to do."


A self-confessed travel 'nut', Jennings is looking forward to exploring new terrains, but he was quick to note the business end of this weekend being at the forefront of the team's thoughts.

"One of the great things about rugby is that you get to visit a lot of interesting places and Italy is an interesting and beautiful country," he says.

"I've been around the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and Sardinia on holiday, while we played in Treviso a few years back in the Heineken Cup, which included a day trip to Venice. I have been to Rome a few times as part of the national team and a couple of summers back we had a week-long training camp in Padova. So we know that there's a big interest in rugby in the Viadana region and they're going to be keen to play with pride and strength at home.

"But we're not on our holidays until June and we're not there for a holiday. This weekend is all about picking up points.

"We need to put in a performance and the squad are looking forward to it."