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Jennings: New Challenges, But The Same Principle

Jennings: New Challenges, But The Same Principle

For Shane Jennings, a veteran of 70 Heineken Cup matches, good preparation ahead of the Sunday’s quarter-final against Toulon is key.

Shane Jennings was one of Leinster’s leading lights in their RaboDirect PRO12 derby win over Munster, making a telling break in the second half and then setting up Brian O’Driscoll for the game’s only try.

The 32-year-old flanker is looking to exert the same sort of influence when the province face defending champions Toulon in a fascinating last-eight encounter in the Heineken Cup.

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He was pleased to get the 80 minutes against Munster under his belt, describing it as ‘very good’ in terms of preparing the squad for the step up they will face at the Stade Félix Mayol.

“In terms of a stepping stone it was a good start, but I don’t think anything would really prepare you for what we are going into. We’re very happy that some of the stuff that we tried to do, pattern-wise, paid off,” admitted Jennings.

“We held onto the ball better in the second half (against Munster), which we didn’t do in the first half.

“These guys (Toulon) are very dangerous, scored a lot of points at the weekend (when beating Toulouse) and you can see over the last number of years that they have been there or thereabouts in the Top 14.

“You don’t do that by not being a good attacking team as well as a good defensive team.

“I think I heard Birch (Bernard Jackman) say that their defence was the best in France. It’s a tight pitch apparently so it is going to be very difficult.”

A bruising forwards battle awaits the Leinster eight against Toulon’s powerful pack. However, Jennings feels they take some positives from the 22-18 win over Munster, in terms of being ‘battle-hardened’.

“We had a good win at the weekend and we’re a bit battered and bruised at the moment and we’ve got to recover well and obviously prepare well,” he said, speaking on Monday.

“It’s important that we hit the ground running because we certainly want to have another week like this in a couple of weeks’ time.

“If we don’t prepare well and we don’t take the responsibility, we’re not going to have it. It’s a massive week for everybody.”

Most of Leinster’s recent trips to France have been successful ones. As recently as January there was a win over reigning Top 14 champions Castres Olympique in the pool stages, a crucial victory in the push to qualify for the last-eight.

In fact the last five visits to France have seen Leinster win three matches, draw one and lose one.

Jennings sees this experience of playing and winning on French soil in recent years as a help, but the test posed by Toulon is something Leinster have never had to overcome before.

While Matt O’Connor’s men will be fully focused on on-the-pitch matters, the travelling Leinster support will get to experience the famous ‘Pilou-Pilou’ pre-match chant and the raft of newspapers and programmes that are hurled into the air in celebration of a home score.

It is certainly a unique atmosphere, one in which Leinster will either sink or swim as they aim to reach their fifth Heineken Cup semi-final in six years.

“Playing Clermont down there is similar, playing Toulouse down there is pretty similar. We have experience of that,” added the Dubliner.

“I don’t think we’ve ever gone down to the holders of the competition, with such a proud home record and doing so well in their league. It’s somewhere I’ve never been before and I don’t think a lot of lads have been down there before.

“There’s a lot of new challenges around it but it’s the same principle. You’re going in to a pretty hostile environment against a very physical French pack with a dangerous back-line. It’s a dangerous challenge and it will be a real test for us.”