Former captain Jamie Heaslip believes Leinster are “even more dangerous” than last season as they begin their Champions Cup title defence against Wasps on Friday night.
Speaking on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, Heaslip said: “The depth of the squad is a real key strength of Leinster. They don’t have the budgets of some of the other key sides in Europe, but what they do have is a really good academy system that’s bringing through a lot of talent.
“I don’t know the stat but I’m sure it’s 90-95% of the squad are from the region. The average age is younger than in the past and last season they bedded in a lot of players. It was James Ryan’s first season and he had to go a whole season until June to lose a game. That will give them crucial experience and that will make them even more dangerous.
The other thing Leinster are ahead on is the way Stuart (Lancaster) has this team playing. Leinster went up against a lot of sides that were much bigger than them, physically, but they move the ball so quickly, they move the point of contact so quickly, that these big teams weren’t able to set their defensive line.
They play at such a fast pace, they train at such a fast pace, that I just don’t know if teams are at that level.”
Coming off the back of a 30-22 win against arch-rivals Munster in the PRO14 last Saturday, Heaslip believes Leo Cullen’s charges are well equipped to deal with the pressure of being favourites to retain their title.[/quote]
“That’s the goal, there’s no hiding that goal. The players are ambitious and that’s what they want to do. But it’s tough when you’ve won it, someone always wants to take it off you. It’s very hard to go back-to- back in Europe. Especially with the group we have with Wasps, Bath, and Toulouse.
“But the guys are used to being top of the pile and everyone wanting to have a pop off them and you’ve got to wear that as current champions. It’s something they will relish, but they won’t get cocky about it.”