‘This is one they should have blocked’ – Jackman and Kinsella on Munster’s signing of Jenkins

WITH THE DUST having barely settled on the Six Nations, this has been another engrossing week in Irish rugby as, with European knockout games looming, Munster tried to make peace with their defeat to Leinster in the Pro14 final and, by the sounds of it, Leinster tore their own victory to pieces in the aftermath of their four-in-a-row league success.

There has been confirmation of significant impending departures from the provincial scene, too, with Connacht coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy stating their respective intentions to seek pastures anew from the end of the season and Munster duo JJ Hanrahan and Darren Sweetnam preparing to bring their mercurial talents to France.

All of this was discussed in detail on this week’s Rugby Weekly, wherein Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella joined Gavan Casey to remind listeners how good Leinster actually are, but also try to figure out why Munster aren’t better than the flat performances they routinely produce when it matters against their arch rivals.

Another hot-button topic, though, was a player signed during the week by the southern province in an attempt to bridge that gap in future, certainly, but equally to replace the soon-retiring CJ Stander, his South African compatriot whose service to Irish rugby is about to reach its end.

Lock-back-row hybrid Jason Jenkins, who earned a Springbok cap in 2018, will arrive ahead of next season from Toyota Verblitz in Japan. Confirmation of his signing sparked much debate during the week — not about his ability, which is undeniable, but more so what it says about Munster’s talent-development strategy and bigger-picture thinking, or indeed lack thereof.

Murray and Bernard came at it from different directions but arrived at the same conclusion: that this was a short-sighted move by Johann van Graan and even his superiors.

“Purely on Jason Jenkins himself”, Murray began, “I think it’s a good signing but I think it’s the wrong signing in the wrong position and I actually just think it’s wrong, as well, that he’s coming in.

“He’s going to add to their squad, 100%. This guy is a huge specimen, six-foot-seven, 125kg; he’s springy in the lineout, he can carry close to the ruck — he’ll take over some of Stander’s dirty work in that regard and they absolutely had to replace that, I think. I can see it from their point of view.

“I know they say they’re going to play him blindside flanker but I can see him and [RG] Snyman starting at second row with Tadhg Beirne at six and Peter O’Mahony at seven and [Gavin] Coombes at eight. And to be honest, that’s an extremely good back five of your scrum.

“But I thought a hooker should have been their priority. A really top-end hooker would add so much to that pack, or a tighthead as he said.

“I think it’ll cost the likes of Thomas Ahern and Fineen Wycherley game time”, Murray continued, “and I know Munster are probably saying here that they don’t think those guys are ready to go and start Champions Cup games — which is really hard for those players, I’d imagine.

“So, I’m a bit mixed on it. I think it makes them a better squad, a better team, but I think it’s wrong.”

“I guess the feeling from Munster is that — and they’re on the record as saying — those younger guys ‘will learn from Jenkins’,” Gavan added. “And of course, they will — he’s a fabulous player. But he’s also 25, you know?”

“They won’t learn from him,” interjected both Bernard and Murray.

Murray continued:

“The one thing that mattered from what Stephen Larkham said [post-Leinster defeat] is, ‘We want to win trophies; you guys understand that, people hold us to that standard.’

“That’s the frustration from my point of view.”

Thomas Ahern with his player-of-the-match medal following Munster’s win over Benetton a fortnight ago. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Bernard added: “I actually don’t blame Johann, really, because when I was at Grenoble, I wanted to sign lots of players, I’d go to the president and he’d tell me: ‘No money.’ I’d have to go back down to my office and make another plan. Or at the Dragons, there was obviously financial limitations plus Welsh-qualified was the priority.

“So, I understand what a coach will want to do but I also think it’s important that someone above you says, ‘Look, this doesn’t make sense for us,’ and, ‘Obviously, there’s an expectation to win trophies but we will give you everything we can within certain criteria and restrictions to do that.’

“In your depth chart you have Wycherley and Thomas Ahern who we like a lot, have potential.

“In this country we have this system where everything should be aligned and make sense and here’s an example where it doesn’t look like it makes sense from a player-development point of view: it’s blocking a couple of young Munster players who have potential.”

You can listen to the podcast in full wherever you get yours — on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc. And The42 members can also tune into our Rugby Weekly Extra analysis pods with Murray and Eoin Toolan every Monday (Tuesday next week due to the bank holiday).

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Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look back on the Pro14 final and ahead to the provinces’ European knockout games.