European dominance bodes well for neglected Ireland

With three sides through to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time ever, there is no doubt who the dominant force is at club level in Europe right now. Yet following last year’s Rugby World Cup, all the talk has been about RWC finalists France and a resurgent Wales to win the RBS Six Nations 2012.

The results from Rounds 5 & 6 though will force people to think again with regards to their predicted champion. Munster, Ulster and last year’s champions Leinster have all progressed to the knockout stages, and will all be involved in two home Irish games, with Munster taking on Ulster at Thomond Park. Munster and Leinster were also the top two seeds at the end of Round 6, whilst Ulster produced one of the performances of the season last week at home against Leicester.

Statistically speaking, between the three of them they have been superior against each nation’s teams; against English opposition they have won five matches and lost just once, against the French they have won four, drawn once and lost once, whilst Munster completed a double over the Scarlets in the only Irish-Welsh pairing. Furthermore, in the last two weeks, Ulster and Munster scored 92 points against two of England’s playoff contenders in Leicester and Northampton. Leinster, arguably the best of the three sides, also scored 52 points against Bath in Round 4, creating an aggregate of 144-70 over the three games. That’s before remembering that Connacht defeated Premiership leaders Harlequins on Friday night.

Naturally, there are some counter-arguments. Supporters from other nations will highlight the influence of foreign players in all three sides, who of course are not elegible to play for Ireland in the Six Nations. Isa Nacewa at Leinster, Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and John Afoa at Ulster, Lifiemi Mafi and BJ Botha at Munster. But the truth is the majority of all three starting XVs were dominated by Irish players, who in turn make up most of Declan Kidney’s squad.

What’s more, six or seven players who put in outstanding performances over the last weekend are not yet in the senior squad, such as Chris Henry, Eoin O’Malley, Dan Tuohy, James Coughlan, Luke Fitzgerald and hat-trick hero Simon Zebo. The key lies in Kidney not only managing to get all of them to gel together, but to also be bold and select on form rather than reputation. If they can get that right, it could be Ireland’s year.

by Ben Coles

13 thoughts on “European dominance bodes well for neglected Ireland

  1. To be fair i think European results mean sod all when it comes to international games.

    The six nations will be a different ball game completely.

    You can’t write any of the sides off. The 6N will be interesting for sure.

    1. Saying they mean “sod all” is a bit unfair. It’s not all about the results, it’s the form of the players. If you have enough individuals playing to a high standard, and in England’s case not too many out injured, then your chances increase.

  2. If English clubs want to progress in Europe, they have to look how the Premiership is managed. Coaches and Refs have to deal with a game to encourage attacking rugby, not how to lose! Attacking rugby and how to win a game should not be a curse. English teams will not progress much. Yes a wage cap may have to go but does that mean the Premiership is not as strong as people think it is. Certain clubs want a European league. This cannot happen or we will have a minority sport. As it is the English clubs will be bottom of that league!

  3. If I recall, by and large, there is little to no correllation between the nationalities of the successful teams in the HCup and 6N, sometimes its the opposite. And whilst I take nothing away from what the Irish provinces have acheived, the fact is that the Celtic pro 12 is pretty uncompetative compared with the French and English leagues, meaning that Leinster and Munster in particular, can rest their players and keep them far fresher for the HC matches than the French and English clubs who really have to scrap to get HC qualification. English teams, Gloucester aside, seemed really off the pace, Sarries very much so. The ONE thing that Rob Andrew has got right in his role is to guarantee the exclusive access to players during the 6N and AIs, which I think will even things up slightly. That said France, Ireland and Wales (in that order) must go in as favourites ahead of England.

  4. I think Benjit has this right. Ireland have won 4 of the last 6 HCups, I think and yet only one 6 Nations in that time

    Their ability to concentrate on the HCup and the fact that the international team is pretty much spread between Munster and Leinster, means that they will probably always do well in the HCup

    For English teams, they cannot lose their concentration on the normal league and their international team is spread much more thinly. The French don’t have quite the same problem as the lack of a salary cap allows them to draft in the best international players they can attract or affprd (does Toulouse have a single player who isn’t an international?)

    We shall see, but given Kidney’s somewhat conservative looking squad, I would hesitate to tip them for the 6 nations

  5. It is a question of getting your priorities sorted. English and French clubs have to balance playing in the Heineken Cup and making sure they qualify for the following season’s edition of the tournament at the same time, weaving in between league fixtures and pool fixtures for a good third of a season. Not meaning to take anything away from the Pro12, but it isn’t the case with teams in that league. Aironi, Treviso, Edinburgh and Glasgow are all guaranteed a spot in the Heineken Cup and the only team from the Celtic nations that didn’t take part in this year’s Heineken Cup were the Dragons.

    I was massively disappointed that Harlequins didn’t make the knockout stages, but Connacht’s performance is a stellar example as to why some teams considered underdogs can be pivotal in the way groups turn out. However, at the same time, why should Leinster, Munster etc be able to almost cruise in the League and pick themselves up for Heineken Cup matches while the likes of Quins, Northampton, Sarries etc. have to really fight for a place for the competition. English and French clubs are almost on the back foot from the start in what is meant to be a competition of Europe’s top clubs.

    There are all kinds of side arguments here (such as the spread of international players across clubs, and even whether the Aviva Premiership should be ring fenced) and I’m very aware of biasness, so it would be great to here from the other side.

    1. look when english and french teams were dominating the h cup in its early years we were told it was because they had much tougher leagues with promotion and relegation ect . now the tune has changed and also the top irish players could earn much more in france or england . ireland have traditional provinces with a natural support base un like scotland and wales . but our under age rugby is the key here i believe as we play no real competetive rugby until at least 14 or 15 which lets the players have time to develop their skill level and maintains high numbers of kids playing and enjoying their rugby . england for example have an u 16 international team which is complete madness . the provinces may fall off a little in the future but they will always remain very competetive , but we need a strong national coach to knit it all together now , not sure about kidney

  6. It will be an exciting tournament to watch. England could well sneak under the radar because nobody expects them to do well after the RWC shenanigans. But Ireland, Wales and France are bracing for classic clashes. Very exciting.

  7. Certainly agree with that. Possibly the most open 6 Nations for years.

    The Irish seem on form, the Welsh have a point to prove after the RWC, the French have a new coach, the Scots are their most settled for ages, the Italians are capable of causing upsets and god only knows what england are/are not capable of!

    Can’t wait

  8. Also, when you consider the success of the irish provinces you have to remember that you can make up the ireland team from only 3 teams whereas england and wales have players spread across teams (wales not so much but big time in the case of england). Seems that all the french team comes from toulouse and a few from clermont.

    I think a european cap would be a good idea to maintain or narrow the ever widening gap between english teams with salary caps and the irish and french teams but the only people in favour of that would be jim mallinder, richard cockerill etc..+ it wud stop the meteoric rise of some of the player salaries (especially in france) which can never b allowed to reach anything close to that of footballers if we want to keep the sport we love..

  9. why does England have rules on salary for HC, surley the clubs can possible have a bigger salary for HC matches as should only govern the premiership. the standard of premiership is not half as good as what it was, look at the pro twelve most teams are getting stronger, cardiff, ospreys, scarlets, edinburagh, traviso(spelt wrong), ulster they are all now making a big impact on HC as well as munster and Leinster so that is 8 strong teams outta the 12 even connacht our lowest team who have a tiny budget and massive injury problems and only a starting 15 of quality but can still beat the premiership table toppers. maybe the salary cap is just an excuse.

  10. There is no doubt that the rabo pro 12 teams have an advantage in that they do not have to worry about relegation or european cup qualification and can pick and choose the games that are most important. But this is balanced out by the player management programme in Ireland that sees the provinces having to do without International players when there provincial coaches might want them to play to build momentum.
    Also this domination by the Irish could be a temporary period as new rules regarding non Irish eligiable players are to be introduced which will force the provinces rely more heavily on Irish players in the future and carefully pick their foreign signings. I fear that this could have a negative impact on our european performances although have to admit there seems to be a steady flow of talent coming through the academies in Munster, Leinster and Ulster to suggest that they may be able to absord these changes without a drastic impact.

    France are my Six Nations favourites followed by Ireland and Wales. I think England will struggle this season but could very well benefit from it in the long term. May even lose to Scotland while Italy will no doubt frighten a couple of teams but still get beaten.

  11. What kind of moaning will the English teams do if they get their wish of a break-away league (world club championship) and the Irish gate-crash it through winning HC. I’d fancy Leinster’s chances against the table-topping sides in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, plus the Super 15 champions. What a Ding Dong!

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