Stuart Lancaster wary of Six Nations ‘bounce’ theory

Few games present themselves on a canvas decorated with such broad and simplistic brush strokes as Sunday’s meeting between Leinster and Saracens.

There is no grey area in any meeting of an Irish team with an English one. Add in the disparity in resources and the workloads of players on both sides of the Irish Sea and the battle lines are drawn with a clarity and simplicity that resonates.

Much has already been made of the difference between the club models here and in the Premiership.

Jonathan Sexton, for one, believes the greater focus on R&R on the part of the IRFU played a key role in the Grand Slam success less than two weeks ago.

Add in the bounce that Leinster could feel from the return of so many players involved in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign and there is an expectation Leo Cullen’s side will start with a clear advantage against a Saracens side with more miles on the clock.

Stuart Lancaster, Leinster’s senior coach, can see two sides to that argument.

Especially after a weekend which saw a Leinster side boosted by seven ‘Slammers’ lose to Ospreys while a Saracens side, with a supposedly jaded Maro Itoje in the vanguard, put Harlequins to the sword.

“It’ll work both ways,” said Lancaster.

“There’s a spring in the step and the confidence that winning a Grand Slam brings, but that said, every game starts from zero, as we saw on Saturday. We had quite a few guys that played in the Grand Slam (match) and we got beaten fair and square by Ospreys.

“It works on the flip side for Saracens, too. Lads will leave a situation where they have not got the outcome they wanted (with England) and the motivation is to go back to the club and play. They’re a tight-knit group at Saracens.

“Mark McCall has done a brilliant job at creating that sense of culture and identity that really drives their mentality. You saw it in Maro’s performance on Saturday against ‘Quins. He got man of the match and deservedly so. So, all this ‘Maro’s tired’, I don’t buy it. He certainly didn’t play tired.”

McCall had said as much before the game.

It was Clive Woodward who claimed that the versatile forward was “out on his feet” after England’s disappointing Six Nations defence, yet the Saracens director of rugby pointed out that he had played just 10 out of the previous 20 weekends.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a grain of truth in this stuff.

Owen Farrell, who is an injury concern ahead of the weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final, has played almost 1,100 minutes for Sarries this season. Sexton has logged 440 in the blue jersey. That’s a considerable variation.

“It’s certainly different, obviously, the way the model works over here, it’s certainly different,” said Lancaster, Eddie Jones’ predecessor as England coach. “But it’s not for me to comment now, having left England, so I won’t.

“You want your clubs to be successful in Europe and the clubs should want England to be successful, so it’s certainly achievable. But the Irish system works well for both province and country.”

But let’s muddy these waters again. This is not England v Ireland Part II.

Saracens bring to Dublin this week English players such as Brad Barritt and Alex Goode who played no part in the Six Nations and a foreign legion that includes Liam Williams, Sean Maitland, Vincent Koch, Schalk Burger, and Schalk Brits.

Leinster’s list of imports is more concise — though no less important on a pound-for-pound basis. The hope in Dublin is that the latest crop of young homegrown talent has matured at a rate sufficient to account for the continent’s market leaders.

The Six Nations will have accelerated that process, amounting to a crash course for the likes of the injured Jordan Larmour, Andrew Porter, Dan Leavy, and a 21-year-old James Ryan who is living up to suggestions that he could be Europe’s next Itoje.

“Obviously playing big games, you can’t accelerate that, you’ve got to go through it,” said Lancaster. “There is no doubt James will be a better player for going through the Six Nations and everything that has happened for him. That said, I’ve been involved with England and given lots of lads their first cap and they go on this rise. There’s maybe 15 players in that category, but then they get more scrutiny, people give you more attention and start to look at your game in more detail. That is when the challenge comes and that is the same for James or Maro or any of them.”

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