Austin Healey writes bilge. The Rabo is quite good and note that Irish teams (ex Connacht) are perenially in the first five.The fans at the RDS attend in bigger numbers than all except Leicester. There is a culture of rugby in Ireland and the GAA is huge also. in the first five

Leinster’s Heineken Cup thrashing of Northampton proved Irish sides have advantage in current format

Not all complaints about the Heineken Cup are to do with money – English sides have a clear disadvantage as Leinster’s thrashing of Northampton proves


Falling short: Northampton had no answer for Leinster and Brian O’Driscoll Photo: ACTION IMAGES


By Austin Healey

11:00PM GMT 12 Dec 2013

If the Premiership clubs required further evidence to underpin their bid to change the face of the European season, it came at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend.

Northampton, on home soil, were humiliated by a Leinster team, against whom, prior to kick-off, the Saints would have fancied their chance. A very strong Irish province, yes, but 40-7?

The real frustration for me about the scoreline is the reason why Team B travels to Team A and delivers a beating to match any other in recent European history. The answer is not only straightforward, but one of the main reasons why the leading clubs in England are so unhappy about the current European structure.

To many of them, the contrast in performance between the two sides, physically and technically, would not have come as too much of a surprise.

On one side, you had the Saints, for whom the lion’s share of their top players have been competing, week in and week out, at the highest domestic and international level since the beginning of September. Many of them might not have had a full pre season.

On the other side, you had a team, for whom its leading lights are fresh and raring to go after a relatively low-key start to their domestic season.

With no straight shoot-out between the teams in the Rabo Direct Pro 12, to see who does and subsequently, does not, qualify for the Heineken Cup, the Irish teams, in particular, are able to pick and choose when their players play.

Not so in England, where the demands of the Aviva Premiership are far greater. After all, fail in the domestic competition in England and there will be no Heineken Cup the following season.

Look at it this way. In an ideal world, a player will have a comprehensive pre-season. He arrives back at his club in June and works tirelessly over the next two months to rediscover the size and strength he had at the beginning of the previous season. For example, a player might target a starting weight of 14 stone. Given a proper pre-season, he will achieve that.

Those players who have been on a summer tour are forced to start their pre-season late, which is all very well if you play your rugby in Ireland where coaches will not expect their leading players to feature in the early rounds of the Rabo Direct.

With respect, the Rabo is not a priority for the likes of Leinster and Munster and as a result, they will allow their senior players and their summer tourists to extend their pre-season to make sure they come back in tip-top condition. They have one or two games leading into the autumn series and then appear in these rounds of the Heineken Cup, fresh and raring to go.

In England, however, whether or not they have reached that optimum weight, the top players are required to play from weekend one.

So, without a proper pre-season, it might be that those individuals hoping to start the season at 14 stones, have only achieved 13 and a half. Then, after that, it’s a real struggle, trying to manage that weight whilst retaining the strength and power to compete. After all, most clubs are seeking a smart start to the season and want their best players in harness, regardless of condition.

The perfect example of what I’m trying to say is this. Jonny Sexton has played more rugby in the first three months of the season for Racing Metro, then he did in the whole of last season’s Rabo for Leinster. What does that tell you about the contrasting demands on players?

So, despite widespread claims to the contrary, not all arguments connected with the Heineken Cup row, are based around money or qualification.

A lot of the concern is based on success and freshness. What the Heineken Cup is doing at the minute, is not only giving the Irish a huge opportunity in terms of development and growth, but hampering the player development in England. The teams in Scotland and Wales are suffering in comparison to the Irish because their squad sizes are smaller.

I understand that some supporters might dismiss the argument and say it was just one of those games and that this weekend, in Dublin, the Saints will come marching back. Who knows what the result will be? However, I do know that if Saints win, it will be a remarkable performance.

Anyway, it would be remiss of me not to mention Connacht’s win in Toulouse in this column. Unbelievable! I remember we (Leicester) beat Toulouse in 1998 and it was a real turning point for the squad. It gives you a huge amount of belief and allows you to kick on. It was not only beating them, but realising how enjoyable that can be. Obviously, Connacht will want to follow that up this weekend and if it’s cold in Galway (it normally is) they might just fancy their chances.

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