No one can deny that Rory Jennings has found his groove in London Irish green this season.
Whether that be in the Gallagher Premiership, Heineken Champions Cup or the Premiership Rugby Cup, the dynamic 10 has shown his determination to make the Irish jersey his own in his second campaign as an Exile.
After being ruled out with a shoulder injury towards the end of last season, Jennings has made his mark and then some on his return as one of the dependable navigators in all competitions.
The Premiership Rugby Cup laid the platform for his reintroduction into the Irish fold, playing his first three games of the season in the tournament.
Now, having been a vital cog in the machine that has rumbled onto a second successive final, a “buzz” has been established as Irish look forward to the St. Patrick’s weekend fixture.
“We have performed pretty well in the Prem Cup this year and went into the semi-final four from four with pretty much a similar sort of team.
“We were really excited going into last Friday and Northampton put a good side out, but we had a really clear plan.
“As a result of that, we could put in a performance that we can be proud of and to achieve qualification to another final is fantastic.
“The game is on the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, which adds another level of buzz for us here at the Club, and we’ll be looking to go one better this time.”
The kicking ace has played in all but one game of the Premiership Rugby Cup campaign, being the second-highest points scorer with 39 and has the second-highest number of try assists in the campaign (four).
He has been a consistent performer in the cup tournament and beyond, and with such game time, has come a responsibility to help usher in another generation of Irish talent.
Being “thrown in at the deep end” is something that will serve the junior players well in the long run, Jennings affirms.
“Irish have always produced great young players, some of them like Ollie Hassell-Collins, Ben Loader and Henry [Arundell] have become senior players but are still really young.
“Some have earned England caps now, and there’s another crop coming through with the likes of Dykesy [Michael Dykes] who have rightly got the plaudits, it’s been coming for him because he’s been working very hard and he backs himself – it’s no surprise really.
“That’s down to good coaching and identification of those players and it always helps as a young player having to jump in and adapt from where you have been in schools level.
“It is very different and you’re firmly in the deep end with some boys who have been playing international rugby for a decade, but it’s good development.”
The 27-year-old’s eclectic history in the game has come from his time playing in divisions outside of the Premiership, including a stint with Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne.
Experiencing different levels and flavours in rugby has opened up the mindset of Jennings when lacing up and taking to the pitch, an approach he has perpetuated throughout this year.
“A lot of the boys that come here have excellent language skills, but even then, there can be difficulty understanding different nuances and that’s what I found initially difficult when at Clermont.
“All the meetings were in French, I find I can speak French better now as I do have the odd French lesson here and there!
“I’ve had the opportunity to experience a lot of different styles, ways of looking at the game and playing the game, so I have accumulated a lot of knowledge on how different players play and think.
“How that has helped me is that it hasn’t pigeonholed me in how to approach the game, there’s no one way of playing rugby and there is a danger of people falling into that trap of thinking one way is the only way.
“Playing in different leagues and different divisions has given me a broader spectrum of how to play, which I think is a good thing.”
Coming back to more familiar territory in west London at the start of the 2021/22 season, the former London Scottish player has been a more than welcome presence at the Club – and has even been adopted with a special nickname.
“The way that we play almost encourages a swift integration into the group of course there are non-negotiables that you buy into but it gives the freedom to express yourself into a good group.
“I was christened with the ‘Ice Man’ nickname pretty soon after the Saracens game last year, I don’t mind that, but it’s not my alter-ego!”
Now well acclimatised into the environment at the Hazelwood Centre, Jennings has been asked to flex his positional versatility this season in different competitions.
Adopting the 12 shirt in six games this season, the shift further rearwards into the backline may not be as alien as initially perceived for the experienced out-half.
Jennings has switched across the team’s axis with aplomb this term, playing a crucial as well as physical role in wins over Northampton Saints and Harlequins over the last month.
“I’ve often been in teams that interchange their 10 and 12 a lot, it’s new to me as a player at London Irish but it hasn’t been a shock when I’ve been playing that role recently,” he tells.
“Paddy [Jackson] doesn’t get injured much, I love playing alongside him and he’s one of the most robust players in the Prem.
“I’ll always try and add value to the team where I can, I’ve been playing a lot at 12 at the moment and some minutes at 10 as well, it’s quite interchangeable depending on the style of the team.
“We have a good foundation of our game at Irish, as a whole we like to play an attacking brand of ‘heads up’ rugby but at the same time, we have to be pragmatic and know that we are playing in the right areas – we’re not completely mental!
“It doesn’t matter what number I have on my back really, I just love playing and we love playing with the ball in hand and I believe that shows on the pitch.”
Expressing a vibrant attitude on the pitch has been a trait accredited to Irish in recent years, but getting results over the line in the earlier portion of the campaign was an undoing.
Sticking to the Exiles’ gameplan, with further refinement, has seen an improvement in the form as the Club bridged last year across into 2023.
“What I know is that we have prepared really, really well throughout, but I feel that we have been more consistent through 80 minutes in recent games where we have come out with better results.
“Consistency and greater discipline than in the first half of the season has come from honest conversations we’ve had about those areas, mostly being one or two moments that have let us down.
“It’s been about cutting those areas of ill-discipline down and trusting in the plan, and not deviating from it.”
Approaching the run-in of the 2022/23 campaign, Jennings returns to the Club that he came up through the junior ranks in this Saturday.
The Bath Academy graduate, as ever, is counting on a fierce contest in the West Country against his former employers at the Recreation Ground in Round 17 of the Gallagher Premiership.
The importance of the fixture can’t be understated, in the opinion of Jennings, who believes this is the first step on the road to a shared goal at the end of the season.
“In the context of the season, it’s huge.
“We know how difficult a game this weekend will be down there, they are a completely different side to what they were last year and have brought a new style of play and resilience to what they do.
“The difficulty of the game isn’t lost on us, but our approach this week is to go out and win it and the graft put in will no doubt help us in that - we want to get stuck in.”
“We’re not shy in saying that we’re aiming for those higher spots in the division, and perhaps in years gone by that may have seemed slightly out of reach, but I firmly believe that we can contend to be a top four Club.
“It’s not what motivates us every week however, we’re just concentrating on what stands in front of us because the table will look after itself.
“We have a set of fixtures now that will really challenge us and put us to the test against some good sides home and away, and that begins this Saturday.”