Saturday 23 November 2019

Jennings urges Leinster to keep play-off hopes alive

Shane Jennings
Shane Jennings
David Kelly

David Kelly

LEINSTER'S significant Irish contingent may have had a fantastic Six Nations but Leinster did not.

This time last year, Matt O'Connor's men swept through February and March, dropping just one point from a potential maximum haul of 20; a year on, two losses, a draw and a solitary win represented their meagre haul while the big guns were away.

Hence, they are languishing outside the play-off places, and defeat this evening against the side they conquered in last year's Grand Final would all but confirm there would be minimal chance of a return to the decider in Belfast.

Having lost in the two previous seasons at the penultimate stages, the Scottish contingent won't necessarily have to rely on expunging the memory of last Saturday's insipid second half collapse against Ireland at Murrayfield as a primary source for revenge.

O'Connor's frustrations are not restricted to the unavailability of Ireland starters this weekend - he is also hampered in preparing for Bath and the Champions Cup quarter-final weekend as it is inevitable that he will have a re-shaped team next Saturday compared to what lines out in the RDS this evening.

Continuity continues to be a problem and, while captain Shane Jennings admits that the players are to blame for their paltry returns over the past two months, the playing staff and coaches must combine to haul them out of the morass.

That Glasgow arrive as league leaders, and armed with all the back-line talents who started in Murrayfield last weekend, rubs an appreciable dose of salt in the wounds; it would be the ultimate sting were they to irreparably damage the play-off chances of the side who trumped them in the Pro12 final last May.

"It's kind of unprecedented," says Jennings , whose side have normally lorded it above their rivals at this stage of the season, instead of hanging on the coat-tails of the top four.

Leinster are two points adrift of Ospreys in fourth and face a significant hurdle in having three away games in their four-game run-in.

"We haven't usually been in fifth coming into this time of year. It's a massive test of us as players," adds Jennings.

"The disappointing thing that's happened over the last number of weeks is that last year we took that opportunity during the Six Nations as a group of players and management team where we did better.

"This year we didn't and I feel that was down to players. They have to take responsibility.

"We've had a really good week. Training has been really good. But, the proof is in the pudding and only the players can do that.

"Thankfully, in times gone by, we've delivered. But, every time you go out it is about being tested. It's going to be a big test of us."

Of the international stars, only bench players Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, and Sean Cronin - as well as Cian Healy and Luke Fitzgerald, who only started one Six Nations game - were released by the IRFU and Joe Schmidt; Leinster fans will regret ruefully how their former favourite obviously now has other priorities in this World Cup year.

Rhys Ruddock is absent as is hamstring victim Kane Douglas, once more the subject of interest by the Australian Rugby Union, who are seeking to repatriate the second-row ahead of the World Cup.

Washed

Leinster have washed their hands of such speculation again but there is a distinct possibility that another former Leinster coach, Aussie supremo Michael Cheika, may still engineer a release for Douglas next autumn, which would be another body blow for the province.

Even if the Scots stank the place out last weekend, on club duty the Glasgow players have been a different proposition and Gregor Townsend must be thrilled to have all of Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Fraser Brown, Tim Swinson and Rob Harley available in the starting XV.

"We'll need to play our best rugby if we're to come away with a positive result," he said.

Verdict: Leinster

Glasgow Warriors - S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; F Russell, N Matawalu; A Allan, F Brown, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, A Kellock capt, R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss. Reps: P MacArthur, J Yanuyanutawa, M Cusack, J Gray, A Ashe, H Pyrgos, C Braid, R Vernon.

Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B Te'o, I Madigan, D Kearney, J Gopperth; E Reddan; M Bent, R Strauss, M Moore, T Denton, M McCarthy, J Murphy, S Jennings capt, J Conan. Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, T Furlong, B Marshall, D Ryan, I Boss, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald.

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster,

Live, TG4, 7.35

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