D’Arcy claimed the job of escaping from the pool stages of the Champions Cup has become 35-40% harder for the provinces since the changeover from the Heineken Cup and he reckoned Irish sides faced an “almost impossible” task.
“I think it’s hard for any team,” said the new Leinster senior coach.
“If you look at our pool — [Northampton] Saints, Castres, Montpellier — it is a tough pool, but, if you’re Northampton, you are probably looking at it the same way.
“The standard of the top end of Europe has improved, but having been involved now with this team for a few weeks, and having seen some of the top teams in England, this team on its best day can compete with the best in Europe.
“It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds this season.
“Last season, what was it, five from England and three from France [made the quarter-finals]? I would imagine this year, as well as the Irish, the Welsh and the Scottish sides — Glasgow — will be tough to beat.”
Leinster get their European adventure underway at the RDS against Castres on Saturday week, but, before that, there is the not insignificant matter of a Guinness PRO12 appointment with Munster at the Aviva Stadium.
It will be Lancaster’s first visit to the stadium since March of last year, when his England team fell 10 points short of their hosts, a game which has come as close as any to preparing him for Saturday’s derby feel.
His time at Leeds Tykes threw up fierce rivalries with fellow northerners Sale and Newcastle, but it is the intense atmosphere of the Six Nations on which he will lean in preparation this week.
“My background over here is limited in terms of club rugby, but my perception having been watching from afar over the last seven, eight, nine years of my coaching career is this is right up there with any of the [Test rivalries].
“In the UK and Ireland, Leinster and Munster is top table in terms of derbies and so it should be. It will be nice to go back to the Aviva.
“I’ve not been there for a while and such a big crowd will make a fantastic occasion.”
It will be strange and he admits as much.
His second Leinster game was in Murrayfield. That was strange, too. So was last Saturday’s encounter with Cardiff at an Arms Park.
Acclimatisation to his new surrounds assumes many strands.
He spoke about the visit to Glasgow last month as his first “in charge”, but mentioned elsewhere that he has settled in well alongside head coach Leo Cullen and the rest of the staff.
A Munster side improving under Rassie Erasmus will likely offer little room for misunderstandings — the southern province has often discomposed their hosts at the Aviva — but Lancaster doesn’t need to be told that.
“I’m just getting into the detail of analysing them, but they have some hugely influential players and a very effective kicking game.
“The defensive system has improved from last season, I can see that already from the few games I’ve watched. They are a very physical, abrasive pack who like to take sides on around the fringes.
“Conor Murray is clearly key in terms of the accuracy of his kicking game and CJ Stander is a pretty influential player as well, so we will be tested all over the park.”
Fergus McFadden (quad) and Dave Kearney (ankle) will miss the Munster game. Lock Mike McCarthy (foot) is a doubt, while Sean O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw, and Rob Kearney are all said to be rehabilitating satisfactorily.
Henshaw remains the most likely of the trio to play this week.