Reddan: PRO12 sets the standard

Soul II Soul.

Remember them? Back in the late 80s, Jazzie B, Daddae and the gang had a couple of hits and chief among them was a number called ‘Back to Life’ which invariably enters the mind on weeks like these when the PRO12 resumes after it’s Heineken Cup hiatus.

“Back to life/Back to reality...” You know the one.

Eoin Reddan has heard this tune before and, truth be told, he sounds sick of it. It follows him and the rest of the Irish provincial players around like a bad smell. It’s the ‘sure it’s only the PRO12’ argument and the Irish international scrum-half needs only the most limited of prodding before launching into an impassioned defence of a competition constantly described somewhat condescendingly as ‘the bread and butter’.

“Yeah, back to the competition that everyone seems to underestimate all the time,” said the Limerick man earlier this week.

“The Rabo is a very tough competition and you see that every year as the Heineken Cup goes on and the Rabo teams do very well in it.

“The English teams generally do well in the first few weeks, which we have seen, but this is such a tough competition and it probably makes it tougher because people think it is a down week this week but it’s not.

“This week we are playing against the likes of Lloyd Williams, (Alex) Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and on our side you have Johnny (Sexton), Brian (O’Driscoll) and whoever, a number of internationals who might be available for selection. The (English) Premiership isn’t going to have that, ever, so it is more a case of how it is reported on, how it is perceived out there as a step down. As players you have to deal with being told all week that this week isn’t going to be as tough as the last one.”

It’s an interesting point Reddan raises about the respective merits of the English Premiership and the PRO12 given the former is incessantly pumped up by Sky while the latter is invariably looked down on by the masses.

Reddan is better placed than most to tabulate the pros and cons of both ‘domestic’ competitions given his sterling service with London Wasps and his point about international stars on show certainly holds water this week.

Eleven of the Leinster 15 lining out at the RDS tonight have represented their country. Eight of the Blues starters can say likewise while there are others on both benches and others besides destined for such honours.

Joe Schmidt has front-loaded his side with the best troops and, with Richardt Strauss now a member of Declan Kidney’s squad, the club was proud to announce yesterday that their 15 would be an “all-Irish affair”.

Quibbles about nationality aside, nothing on offer across the water this weekend — not even Gloucester/Leicester at Kingsholm or Northampton/Saracens at Franklins Gardens — will come remotely close to matching such star power and Reddan isn’t shy about saying it.

“It’s more a case of how it’s perceived and reported, that it’s a step down, but in reality it’s not,” he added. “As players you have to realise that all week you’ll be told that this game isn’t as hard as last week but it probably will be. That Ospreys game last year — the (RaboDirect PRO12) final — was one of the toughest I have ever played in. You have four international teams (fed by) 12 teams in the Rabo. The Premiership has one and 12 teams.”

It’s a persuasive argument, all the more so when it is delivered with such eyes-wide intent, but it appears to be hamstrung by the realisation that for all their Welsh warriors, this Cardiff side has been far from inspiring this season. Again. They haven’t won in Dublin since 2004 although it may be that the visitors arrive that bit more attuned to the task at hand this time what with the November Tests around the corner and those red Welsh jerseys about to be waved in front of their noses again soon.

Add in the knowledge that many of their opponents this evening will be challenging for another famous red garment next summer and it may be that Reddan’s argument is backed up in the best way possible tonight.

LEINSTER: I Madigan; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, D Toner; K McLaughlin, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, D Browne, R Ruddock, I Boss, B Macken, F Carr.

CARDIFF BLUES: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, D Hewitt, J Roberts, T James; J Tovey, L Williams; T Filise, M Breeze, S Andrews; B Davies, J Down; J Navidi, S Warburton, A Pretorius.

Replacements:R Willimas, N Trevett, C ma’afu, L Reed, R Copeland, L Jones, C Sweeney, T Williams.

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