Jennings can see the end in sight but savage back row competition has lit a fire under him

WHEN A RUGBY player enters their 30′s, it is natural for them to imagine what the end of their career might look like. So few finish like Brian O’Driscoll, going out in a blaze of national and club glory.

Most just drift out of the team gradually until they can barely make the bench anymore. Shane Jennings thought about the end during his 12 week spell out of action but the prospect of retirement lit a fire under him.

In his absence, Dominic Ryan came into the side and played well enough to make his Ireland debut against Georgia in November.

Jennings says the thought of his rugby mortality helped him remember how much he loves playing the game.

“Obviously I’m coming to the end of my career whether it is this year, next year or the year after that,” Jennings said.

Jennings made it back for Leinster’s win over Connacht at the RDS last weekend and was just as big a nuisance as ever. He was part of a great collective effort from Leinster at the breakdown that was very disruptive and the openside loved being back out on the pitch – even though his fitness is still coming back to him.

“It was very enjoyable,” Jennings said.

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“It was a pretty frustrating 12 or 13 weeks watching it on the sidelines. I was blowing out my backside and struggling for most of the game but I’m delighted to get back into training today.”

Jennings might not be ready to retire just yet, but his body is feeling the impact of over ten years in professional rugby.

He doesn’t need to walk with a cane but after a physical inter-provincial battle, he needed to get creative to escape from his bed.

“It was a tough game [vs Connacht] and there were a fair few hits,” Jennings said.

“I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning because I couldn’t get out of bed properly. That takes some time to get used to as well. It is like pre-season again getting back into training.”

Jennings says he usually finds it hard to get motivated over the Christmas period – his family and friends can enjoy their food and drink a lot more than a professional rugby player.

But this year is different for him. The Leinster back row has developed into the most competitive area on the team and when playing from a full hand Matt O’Connor has to select three from Jennings, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Dominic Ryan, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan and Jamie Heaslip.

The increased competition has focused Jennings’ mind on making a mark over the festive fixtures.

“That’s what we want [competition in the back row] and that’s what Matt wants,” Jennings said.