Jason Jenkins’s impact since joining Leinster does not require a deep dive into statistical data, although that’s available as supplementary evidence, because his qualities as a player are easily visible in his three performances to date.
He has been excellent, from a try-scoring debut in the opening game against Zebre, through a handsome 80-minute contribution against Benetton and then, in the monsoon at Kingspan Stadium, there was a marked contrast in Leinster’s performance when he was on the pitch and during the fraught final 25 minutes when the South African-born secondrow watched from the stands.
There is little point in rehashing his injury-ravaged time at Munster, one of acute frustration for player at the time and now, one suspects, for the Munster supporters who are watching him blossom in the blue of Leinster. It sums up the vicarious nature of sport.
Leinster assistant coach Robin McBryde offered an insider’s view on what Jenkins has brought, on and off the pitch.
“He’s been great. He was unlucky with injuries joining us in Leinster. I know the medical team have worked hard with him [regarding] a finger injury he had when he arrived.
“It was very hard for him to hit the ground running right from the word go without having had those minutes under your belt. But now that he has a clean bill of health, he is playing really well.”
At 6ft 8in and a wafer-thin mint under 19½ stone, he brings an obvious ballast, but it doesn’t camouflage his athleticism.
McBryde continued: “Away from the set-piece, he has put shots in around the field, put himself about and struck up a great relationship with Michael Ala’alatoa from a scrummaging point of view.
“He is working well with Ross [Molony] there as a secondrow partnership as well. I think he’ll keep on growing; he’ll keep getting better. I think it [the Benetton match] was the first 80-minute game he played for two years. Fair dues to him, he has made an impact right from the word go.”
It’s not just the optics of performance, the data and also arguably the best imprimatur anecdotal evidence from his team-mates underline the value of his Jenkins’s work. McBryde said: “[As a coach] you get feedback. The front row will tell you if they’re not getting a lot of weight coming through. Everybody is happy when Jason is behind them.
“Then from a maul point of view as well, he is all over his detail in fairness to him. [It’s] a big ask to come and learn a different language, learn a different way of doing things, but he has taken it in his stride, and I expect him to grow even further; [we are] really happy with the way Jason is going.”
McBryde explained that Leinster did their ‘due diligence’ when the opted to sign Jenkins so that his injury profile was not a concern other than hoping that the player would get a break, in a good way.
The Welshman also pointed to the fact that non-Irish players often bring a fresh perspective that is beneficial to the culture at Leinster.
It’s a fresh pair of eyes and the fact that “he sees the game differently. He’s South African. That is the beauty of having a good mix of Kiwis or wherever players come from. They see the game differently.
“I suppose there’s a little bit of an inside track on what is going to come on Saturday with the Sharks. They are going to ask big questions of us at set-piece time. A big, power-based team running hard around the corner; hitting things, confrontational, physical. He carries that with him, he’s South African.”
The manner of Leinster’s defeats in Europe in recent years and last season’s defeat to the Bulls in the URC semi-final has had a recurring theme in that the Irish province have not managed to find a way past a team that shut them down physically, something that Saracens and La Rochelle have done very effectively.
It would be unfair to say that Jenkins alone will provide the solution to unlock a passage to European glory but there’s little doubt that he provides Leinster with a physical powerful presence that has been lacking in recent seasons.
McBryde was asked if Jenkins brings ‘something that you were missing when falling short last season’. He responded: “You could say that. We weren’t that far away, but the more people of quality you’ve got in your ranks, then the higher the level of competitiveness in training etc.
“To have someone of Jason’s ability and mindset, his outlook on the game, to have that as well in the mix is great for any youngster. It’s something akin to what all those youngsters with Emerging Ireland are going through in Bloemfontein now; working with different coaches, getting different experiences.”
Leinster confirmed that James Ryan (hamstring) and Will Connors (back) came through the Ulster match without any adverse reaction and will be available for Saturday’s game against the Sharks at the RDS.
Caelan Doris (return to play protocols), Rónan Kelleher (hamstring) and Dave Kearney (adductor) would all need further assessment this week before a final decision was made on their availability. Jamison Gibson-Park is out of contention for the weekend with a hamstring injury picked up at training last week.
There are no further updates on Ciarán Frawley (shoulder), Hugo Keenan (abdominal and knee injury), James Lowe (calf), James Tracy (neck), Charlie Ryan (knee) and Tommy O’Brien (knee).