Leinster war horse Shane Jennings looks to life beyond the game

Following the disappointment of last Sunday’s home defeat to Newport Gwent Dragons, Leinster coach Matt O’Connor has made a total of seven changes to his starting line-up for tonight’s Pro12 encounter against Zebre at the RDS.

Leinster war horse Shane Jennings looks to life beyond the game

However, the big news from yesterday’s media briefing in the same venue surrounded flanker Shane Jennings, who announced his decision to retire from professional rugby at the end of the current campaign.

The 33-year-old will lead out the defending champions on his 204th appearance for the province, and although he is looking forward to pursuing his interests outside of rugby, he accepts that a part of him will miss the game in the near future.

“I said it jokingly [earlier]. I’m sick of talking about it [retirement]. Genuinely, it’s been occupying so much mind space, in reality for a couple of years because of injuries I have in my knees. You don’t know if you are in control of that and you might have to retire. It all came good,” Jennings remarked.

“You have to look at the bigger picture. I had an interest from studying when I was in college, studying general business. I enjoyed that, clearing my head, developing outside the game. When you do that, you get more confidence.

“I honestly don’t know what it’s going to be like when, come the end of June, everybody will be going back to pre-season and I’m not. I’m sure that will be a shock to the system. There are obviously going to be difficult times.”

With Dominic Ryan and Jack Conan also retaining their places, the Blues’ back-row remains intact from the Dragons clash, which brought an end to a 21-game unbeaten run at the RDS. However, with concussion victims Richardt Strauss and Tom Denton following return to play protocols, Aaron Dundon and Mike McCarthy are promoted from the replacements bench, while Marty Moore also returns to bolster the Leinster front row.

The additional absence of Noel Reid with a head injury means that Gordon D’Arcy will partner Ben Te’o in the Leinster midfield, with Luke Fitzgerald (who replaced Reid 12 minutes into last weekend’s action) completing a back-three that also includes Zane Kirchner and Fergus McFadden.

With victory over the Italians a top priority, Eoin Reddan’s return to fitness is a timely boost for O’Connor. He is selected alongside Jimmy Gopperth at half-back. Elsewhere, Sean Cronin and Cian Healy — fresh from their cameo appearances in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday last — will be dependable reserve options alongside Isaac Boss and Dave Kearney.

It has been a short turnaround for Leinster’s from the Dragons game, but O’Connor is hoping that his side can use Sunday’s frustrating performance as motivation this evening.

“The performance that we put out at the RDS last week was unacceptable. That’s the reality. We’ve got an opportunity with a really short turnaround to fix it. The pain and frustration that’s been in the environment off the back of not being good enough hopefully drives us in the right direction tonight,” O’Connor added.

LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B Te’o, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan; M Bent, A Dundon, M Moore; M McCarthy, K Douglas; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Conan.

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, T Furlong, B Marshall, D Leavy, I Boss, C Marsh, D Kearney.

ZEBRE: H Daniller; D Berryman, Mirco Bergamasco, M Pratichetti, M Visentin; L Orquera, B Leonard; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, L Leibson; V Bernabo, M Sutto; J Sarto, Mauro Bergamasco, S Vunisa.

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