Sunday 25 August 2019

'Grumpy' Shane Jennings keeps the faith after Munster massacre

Leinster players Shane Jennings and Isaac Boss following their defeat to Munster
Leinster players Shane Jennings and Isaac Boss following their defeat to Munster
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE HAUNTED look on Shane Jennings' face as he trawled through the wreckage of Friday night's mauling at the hands of Munster called to mind a line from Anthony Daly's autobiography: "God give me the pain, but don't give the shame".

Leinster are facing into a week of recriminations and re-assessments and at the heart of it all is the realisation that, for the second time this season, they had failed to fire a shot against their greatest rivals.

The progress made against Connacht was undone by their failure in Limerick and the heat is on Matt O'Connor and his team yet again.

Stand-in captain Jennings spoke in the build-up to the derby about those outside the camp having no idea what was going on behind closed doors at UCD. Those same critics would pay to be a fly on the wall today as O'Connor and his coaching team pick through the wreckage of the defeat.

While the St Mary's openside was keen to avoid the words of out-half Jimmy Gopperth, who said Leinster had been "out-passioned" at the Aviva Stadium in October, he accepted that the performance on St Stephen's night was well below the standard required if the province are to continue their run of at least a trophy a season since 2011.

Leinster are in the middle of the most testing part of their season: following their back-to-back European meetings with Harlequins and a hat-trick of interpros, they have the light relief of a trip to Cardiff which will lead into their season-defining European games against Castres and Wasps.

Consistency

Friday marked the half-way point of the Guinness Pro12 regular season and Leinster sit in fifth, three points behind the Ulster side they welcome to the RDS this weekend.

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"We are going to have to have a look at ourselves and have a good week in order to play Ulster, because Ulster are a bloody good team and they are going to be tough to play against," Jennings said.

"It is not a game that we can lose because if we fall down again, that is going to be another few points of the top four and it is going to be difficult going into the Six Nations.

"The reality of it is that we have to fight every week to get into that top four. At the minute we are not consistently playing well enough to maintain those points."

Under-fire coach O'Connor is hoping to be able to call on a stronger squad in the new year as Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy, Marty Moore and Ben Te'o return from long-term injuries, but the Australian must have huge concerns about the lack of fire his team showed again against Munster.

His pair of international second-rows were symptomatic of the problems, bullied in close quarters and dominated in the lineout.

Devin Toner's loss was felt, but against Billy Holland and Donncha O'Callaghan the Australian must have hoped for more from Mike McCarthy and Kane Douglas - who is doing little to justify his big pay-packet.

Contrast his latest indifferent display to the sight of a topless BJ Botha hurling himself into rucks, despite the game being won, and it appeared to sum up the disparity between the teams in terms of commitment.

O'Connor spoke of a lack of accuracy, but to beat Munster at Thomond Park you have to come fully loaded in the intensity department and the men in blue failed to come close to matching the hosts.

"Personally it is always a barometer, each season when I play Munster how I would judge the season and they have got two on us this year," Jennings said.

"Who knows if we will play each other in a play-off again? We may well see each other again but that is not in our control at the moment.

"But, yeah, it hurts. Listen, I'm hurting here and I don't have much to say because they deserved it. There is no excuses, they got what they deserved and they got what they wanted, they deserved it.

"I certainly don't think I played well. And I certainly don't feel like I can comment on behalf of the team because I didn't put my part of the bargain forward. I missed two tackles that led to scores and that's not good enough.

"It is going to a long week for me, it is not an enjoyable Christmas time, I'm pretty grumpy, I am pretty p***ed off with the way I played and there are a few guys who feel like that.

"I don't think we performed well, I don't think we were let; I think if you asked the Munster guys they probably didn't feel that they worked too hard for their scores."

Dominant

The dominant forces of the Pro12 for the last two seasons, both Leinster and Ulster are in poor form coming into next Saturday's meeting, in fifth and fourth respectively and badly in need of a win.

Both teams expect to be able to call on their internationals for the first game of 2015, although the northern province will be missing Ruan Pienaar, who is still injured. Despite his despair at Friday's performance, Jennings remains convinced that the tide will turn in his side's favour before long.

"Listen, it is a long season, it is probably half-way through and we have got a home game against Ulster next week," he said.

"We are fifth with three points the difference between us and that top four spot. Personally I am very confident that we are going to be there or thereabouts.

"It was an opportunity that we missed on Friday night to gain a bit of a foothold in that top four and players understand that more than anybody."

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