After Leinster’s success, can we expect the same kind of upsurge in the national team’s fortunes?
A few years ago, Rob Kearney wondered aloud at an Irish team meeting why the national team couldn’t perform with the same level of passion and commitment as Munster, who at the time were the major force in European and Celtic rugby.
Some initially inferred from Kearney’s remarks that he was accusing the Munster players of failing to give everything in Ireland’s cause, in contrast to the way they performed in the red jersey.
The situation was subsequently clarified in the young Leinster man’s favour and indeed his honesty played a part in Ireland’s subsequent first Grand Slam triumph in 61 years.
Now that Leinster are creating what Brian O’Driscoll described as “a dynasty” and have captured the Heineken Cup three times in four years, the boot is on the other foot.
Nobody is suggesting that Leinster players don’t give their all for Ireland just as they do for their province. It’s just that the results are coming up short of what could reasonably be expected, given the success of Leo Cullen’s side.
How come Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon Darcy and Rob Kearney don’t conjure up the kind of tries that so superbly decorated Leinster’s demolition of Ulster at Twickenham on Saturday, or the score by Cian Healy that proved the difference when they defeated Clermont Auvergne in the “real” final in Bordeaux three weeks earlier?
It will be argued that Joe Schmidt, Jonno Gibbs and company at Leinster have the knack of getting the best out of their charges and that Declan Kidney, Gert Smal et al have been coming up short in that respect.
But they said much the same when Munster were ruling their roost and Ireland were struggling, but as always the cycle has come full circle. Not only did Ireland win all five matches in 2009, but Leinster have now brought home the H-Cup three times in four years.
Can we expect the same kind of upsurge in the national team’s fortunes over the next few years?
There seems no reason why not, with Leinster’s most experienced campaigners and a few of Munster’s “old stagers” playing as well as ever, combined with the emergence of a host of talented younger players.
Most people are dismayed at the prospect of a squad of players tired and weary after a long domestic season having to travel to New Zealand and take on the All Blacks in three Test matches in two weeks.
The likelihood is that they will give a good account of themselves in the first game and perhaps in the second as well but one dreads what may lie in wait further down the line.
These tours are arranged at this time on an annual basis as money spinners for the host unions. The Kiwis, Wallabies and Springboks don’t fancy coming here in the autumn just as we don’t like going there in the spring. But the money to pay the players has to come from somewhere and, until a better system is devised, that’s the way it will continue.
And if you fear for Ireland in New Zealand, what are England’s prospects in South Africa? Not very bright.
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