Sunday 17 December 2017

Jennings confident Leinster can get their groove back against Saracens

Jennings: Expecting tough battle
Jennings: Expecting tough battle
David Kelly

David Kelly

Brendan Venter may be best remembered in this neck of the woods for his bizarre Mike Bassett routine - always worth a YouTube visit on these dank January days.

But it is another of the departed Saracens coach's eccentric outbursts that contains more direct relevance for his erstwhile charges' return Heineken Cup visit to Dublin this weekend.

When the Londoners pitched up in Wembley last October, they would have expected to announce themselves grandly as a potential force in European competition; instead, they bowed out limply, trudging through 30-plus phases at the death as Leinster snatched a deserved win.

It was a turgid affair that -- although Wembley housed substantially more than twice this Saturday's expected RDS population -- was so lifeless the stewards had to wake up most of the punters at the final whistle.

Dr Venter proceeded to anaesthetise the poor hacks afterwards with a 30-minute diatribe on refereeing standards, Leinster's tactics and breakdown interpretations which were so oblique even Joycean scholars may have longed to pick up a copy of 'Heat' magazine instead.

Hence, the ERC slapped him on the wrist; from where we were introduced to Venter as Bassett and, now, with the odd doctor back home, the English side will be gunning for revenge in the RDS.

"Yeah he seemed pretty frustrated after the game alright," smiles Leinster flanker Shane Jennings. "I don't know what he's talking about when he said (Leinster were) killing the game, killing the ball. Because if you do that you're going to be penalised.

"We found out that you just have to interpret it the way the ref is playing it on the day. So, we did well. They have got a good back-row that can slow up ball and we're happy the way we competed against them.

"It's going to be no different this week because whatever back-row they pick, they're going to be strong and good. But we have fellahs like Richardt Strauss on the ball, who can be so hard to move. He had a good day that day. Generally speaking, we were competitive at the rucks and that flowed into everything else."

Leinster are seemingly cruising in their pool, five points clear of both Clermont and Racing, with the Saracens race all but run, and giddy RDS loyalists are already scenting a home quarter-final.

Yet despite Saracens' travails, they did nick a win in the Stade Colombes against Racing Metro before Christmas and they are likely to retain a strong line-up -- as this game could be key to ensuring they remain among the trio to drop down to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

They maintained their domestic second-place with a try-less win against London Irish last weekend -- as did Pool 3 rivals Leinster and Racing -- but their concentration on stifling tactics at the breakdown were obvious throughout.

Jennings knows his men must step up after struggling at the RDS last Friday; a "kick up the arse" as Malcolm O'Kelly reflected this week.

"We've had a good meeting about it," admits Jennings. "Joe (Schmidt, Leinster coach) pointed out things we needed to improve on and I think he hit the nail on the head. So, if we can do that, it will go a long way to helping us improve this weekend.

"Players naturally lift their sharpness, intensity and concentration when you come to Heineken Cup week.

"I don't think any of the players have been really happy about the last two weekends, even if we've had a bonus point win against Connacht and a victory against a tough Ospreys side.

"At times we were good in the second half against Connacht, but apart from that, we dipped and we weren't good at all against Ospreys. If we play like that against Saracens, it's not going to be good for anyone around here. We need to get better.

"You'd hope we can improve. It's good to feel that we haven't played very well yet come away with two good results. We've put ourselves in a good position in the league. People say you learn a lot from losing, but you also learn a lot from winning tight games like Friday's."

More often than not, Leinster's supporters are collectively biting their fingernails at this stage of qualification; this time around, their destiny lies in their own hands. Not that the squad will allow complacency to infect them.

"It's nice to go into this fortnight knowing it's in your own control. Still, when you go into rounds five and six and you're chasing a win, you still have to pull it out of the bag. So, winning is the one constant, there's no real difference there," says Jennings.

"Genuinely, we just want to put in a good performance. We want to improve upon what we've achieved in the last few weeks and build on some of the good things we've done. If we can do that, build our intensity, make sure we look after the ball in contact, we feel we can do very well.

"Saracens are a very good side and we know that. So, qualification is all that we're aiming for. First things first, we have to play against a very good Saracens team. We saw, when they went over to Paris, the job they did on a miserable night there.

"They'll have no problems going anywhere. They go up and down England every week and they put in good performances and they have a good squad that can do it. So, we're in for a massive, massive test."

Irish Independent

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