Leinster and Ireland scrum-half Eoin Reddan believes it is far too early to predict that the days of the Irish provinces dining consistently at Europe’s top table are over, despite a worrying run of results in recent months.
Munster and Ulster will play their last games in the inaugural Rugby Champions Cup next weekend after disappointing pools, while Leinster could yet qualify as Pool 2 winners, one of the three best runners-up or join their neighbours in making for an early exit.
Not since the 1996/97 season has Ireland failed to present a representative for the knockout stages and 2007/08 was the last time only one of the provinces made it out of the group stage, with Munster ultimately going all the way.
It is an alarming state of affairs and there is a wider aspect to it as well, not just in terms of immediate knock-on affects for the Ireland team but in the failure of the Welsh and Scottish sides to make a fist of Europe as well.
Glasgow may still make the last eight but the odds are that there will be no club from either nation in the mix when the quarter-finals swing around — for the third year in a row — as England and France continue to flex their financial muscles.
“Well, it’s hilarious because for years they’ve been telling us how rubbish the Pro12 was when we were good and now it is harder because the other teams (from England and France) have done well,” said Reddan.
“It’s just a pity that during the times it was good, that it was bashed so much. It was crazy that (Heineken Cup) semi-finals would often have three Pro12 teams yet people would still question the league.”
Reddan, who spent four years playing in the English Premiership with Wasps, has long been the most vocal of cheerleaders for the Pro12 but he admits the general standard elsewhere has risen as the English and French reap financial advantages.
Ultimately, however, he doesn’t buy into the theory that one league is stronger than another and, in fairness, both the English and French endured relatively barren spells in Europe in the recent past. Maybe now it is just Ireland’s turn.
“And the groups, the way it went this year with the level of group that Munster and Ulster had, it’s probably too quick to jump to conclusions and think that teams are on the way down or on the way up,” he added.
Richie Murphy, who works with both Leinster and Ireland as skills coach, added the reminder that all the provinces have suffered with exceptional injury lists this term but dismissed the suggestion that provincial problems would hinder Six Nations ambitions.
“I don’t think it carries over. The Six Nations is the Six Nations, a different competition. It is a combination of all the teams. Obviously, you want as many (provinces) going well as possible but I don’t really think it makes any difference in relation to the Six Nations.”
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