British and Irish Lions hero Jeremy Guscott says a failure to stick with a regular Test fly-half has prevented Ireland from translating Heineken Cup success to the international arena.
Guscott believes a single Grand Slam success in 2009 does not reflect the quality of this generation of Irish players, who have achieved four Heineken Cup victories with Munster and Leinster since 2006 and have set up an all-Irish final this month between Leinster and Ulster.
The former Bath and England centre said he thought the chopping and changing at out-half between Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton was a contributory factor.
Responding during a Q&A session on the BBC Sport website to why provincial success in Europe had not translated to the Ireland Test side, Guscott said: “Good question, one that Declan Kidney, his coaches and his Irish team, not forgetting every Irish rugby supporter, must have been asking themselves after this year’s Six Nations and last year’s Rugby World Cup. I can only think that there is a bit of uncertainty in the way the individuals within the team really deep down want to play. I agree the talent in Ireland at the moment and for the last several seasons has been good, but only one Grand Slam and championship isn’t enough reward for the players of that quality.
“A big reason would be the constant changing at 10. O’Gara and Sexton see the game differently and that will affect everyone. The Irish front row doesn’t seem to fare as well as the Irish provincial teams do in Europe against the same players. They did it once in 2009 and there’s no real reason why they can’t again — they just have to believe in their own ability.”
As for why the Irish provinces have been so successful in Europe when English clubs had underachieved, Guscott outlined a number of reasons, including the IRFU’s player management programme for its centrally contracted squad members.
“Player talent is one, salary cap is another and no relegation in their domestic league one more. The biggest factor right now is that the skill levels and fitness of the Irish appear to be better than the rest of Europe. The Irish provinces tend to concentrate on the Heineken Cup and let the domestic competition look after itself so their top players can peak for Europe and the internationals and don’t have to worry too much about the Rabo12.
“I can’t see the domestic/international clash in England changing anytime soon unless they restructure the whole season.”
Guscott also praised Leinster for their standard of play, calling it the way forward for club rugby.
“Toulouse have won four so if Leinster win against Ulster that would put them right up there in European terms. There is no doubt that Leinster are playing some brilliant rugby and deserve everything they achieve. The way they distribute the ball is at a level most teams can only dream about, it’s the way forward and the quicker teams learn that the quicker they will be able to compete with Leinster.”
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