The retiring Shane Jennings is set to go out on a high when captaining the Barbarians against Ireland at Thomond Park tomorrow night.
The Irish back rower will play at least one last game to round off a career that yielded him 13 Irish caps and had Leinster fans purring at his ability.
Reacting to the news yesterday that Barbarians coach Robbie Deans had named him skipper, Jennings said: “Yeah, it is a huge honour. I was very surprised, to be honest, I was actually quite shocked. It’s a huge honour.”
It’s always a difficult task to bring together a group of quality players and expect them to be moulded into a team capable of playing an international side, albeit a particular one that doesn’t quite match up to anything that national coach Joe Schmidt would have fielded during any of the Six Nations games.
Schmidt has no access to any of the top Munster players and has decided to name seven absolute newcomers in his squad named at the weekend.
One way or another, Jennings expects a tough challenge and from his perspective, is just delighted to help enhance the Barbarians tradition.
“We want to make sure we enjoy it but also understand the responsibility that goes with playing for the BaaBaas. I think everybody is very aware of that, and even talking to all the lads last night, you can see that it means so much to them.
“These are guys that, if you look through the team, are seasoned professionals, seasoned internationals, and they understand what it means for people who’ve played in this club and people who will play in the club. It’s just fantastic, it’s incredible. I’ve always wanted to play for the BaaBaas and I’m delighted to get an opportunity.”
Departing Leinster at the end of his career, Jennings was reluctant to talk of Matt O’Connor’s exit as the provincial coach.
“Players don’t make decisions on coaches. It was done by the powers that be in Leinster. We were brought in and we were told what happened on Thursday morning, or whatever morning it was last week. It’s not nice when a coach loses his job and his family have to go through that trauma. Look, from a personal point of view, it’s very, very tough, but players play and that’s the nature of the beast with rugby, unfortunately. It’s a pretty brutal game for everybody involved as times. Thankfully I don’t have to make those decisions.
“I’d prefer to talk about Barbarians. Everybody knows what happened in Leinster and that it was not the season that Leinster wanted to have in terms of performance or wanting to achieve, which was unfortunate. But over the course of the season you usually get what you deserve and I think we got what we deserved. We came close in the Champions Cup, but in the league our form wasn’t good enough. That’s not just down on one player, that’s on a lot of people. But for me, I’m very happy that I’m going out of playing rugby having this opportunity to be involved.
“It’s funny, I have a new found respect for the United Nations after out lineout session this morning! We had Uruguayans, Japanese, Irish and English; trying to get calls and some idea of what we want to do was a challenge, but it’s brilliant because you’re rubbing shoulders against players you would have played against for years and would have respected. There’s a lot of talented players there, we just have to make sure that we get the ball, hold onto it and we can play well.”
Meanwhile, Barbarians and Ulster scrum half Ruan Pienaar has tipped Paddy Jackson to join and challenge Jonathon Sexton in Ireland’s World Cup squad.
“I think his kicking game has come a long way. He takes control of the team with his decision making. He always takes the ball flat to the line and he’s not scared to have a go and his goal-kicking has come on a lot. He’s a really good all-round player and defensively he’s solid, so he’s got the makings of being a really good international fly-half.
“Obviously he’s got Johnny Sexton there to learn from him and see from the way he trains and the way he plays. Paddy is still young and as long as he feeds off Johnny and learns from him, he’ll get even better.”
Zane Kirchner (Leinster); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Joe Rokocoko (Bayonne), Wynand Olivier (Montpellier), David Smith (Toulon); James Gopperth (Leinster), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster); Roberto Tejerizo (Tucuman), Deon Fourie (Lyon), Adam Jones (Cardiff Blues); Rodrigo Capo Ortega (Castres), Konstantin Mikautadze (Toulon); Shane Jennings (Leinster, C), Gerhard Vosloo (Toulon), Ryu K-Holani (Wild Knights).
D Ward (Harlequins), S Taumoepeau (Castres), M Diaz (Pampas), G Whitelock (Wild Knights), G Smith (Lyon), T Cubelli (Belgrano), T Pisi (Suntory Sungoliath), G Aplon (Grenoble).
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