English excuses wearing thin as Irish provinces produce another clean sweep 6 months ago

English excuses wearing thin as Irish provinces produce another clean sweep

The Irish provinces are managing their resources very well and benefitting from clarity and having the backing of their coaches, and union.

This weekend, Gloucester, Toulouse, Sale and Racing 92 all took on Irish provinces. All of them lost.

One of the excuses English rugby fans, and pundits, are pulling out, in light of their clubs struggling in Europe, is that they have shallower squads due to the imposed salary cap.

Owners, directors of rugby and head coaches have to manage their squads carefully as they cannot throw as much money around as French and Japanese sides. If you want, for example, a Charles Piutau, you may have to cut costs elsewhere and promote a couple of academy players to the senior squad. If Piutau (or a player of his level) gets injured, the academy players are in at the deep end.

This is what many Premiership sides are trying to juggle with while, across the Irish Sea, our provinces are focusing on developing a good underage structure and a pathway to the senior squads. Leinster are having the greatest success with this, but each province has produced home-grown talent capped by Ireland in recent years.

While the likes of Ugo Monye and Lawrence Dallaglio (below) might be fearful of young players getting dropped into big matches, the likes of Leinster, Munster and Ulster do it regularly.

Eric O'Sullivan has been a revelation for Ulster, Alex Wootton regularly features for Munster while Leinster are often calling on James Ryan, Jordan Larmour, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and, on Saturday, Conor O'Brien was the latest academy player to make his European debut. Connacht are using the Challenge Cup to give several of their academy some European experience.

Another fall-back excuse that gets trotted out is the lack of game-time Ireland's top players have. That they are rested and cotton-wooled until the European games and internationals come around. That does not entirely stack up, with Tadhg Beirne already playing 15 times (for province and country) this season, Will Addison 13, Peter O'Mahony 14, Luke McGrath and CJ Stander 13, to name five senior players.

The top players are managed better, that is true, and that does mean less time out on the pitch. However, sometimes the facts get tossed overboard completely to come up with simplistic reasons why Irish sides are simply outgunning English teams over the last 18 months.

In his match report for Munster's 41-156 win over Gloucester in The Guardian, Rob Kitson wrote:

'The home side were slightly weakened by injury and their coach, Johan Ackermann, with his available players looking increasingly battered, would love to have had the same freedom to rest players as Munster did last weekend.'

Now Kitson is a fine rugby writer and Irish fans were enamoured with him when he talked us up as potential World Cup 2023 hosts (sorry for the reminder), but he is off the mark here.

Gloucester started 10 players against Munster that began the following weekend's Premiership victory over Leicester Tigers. Danny Cipriani and Ollie Thorley did not feature in the league game at all while Henry Walker (15 minutes), Ed Slater (13) and Lewis Ludlow (22) came on as subs at Welford Road. 19 of their squad featured in both matchday 23s.

Munster started with nine of the XV that began their 31-24 Guinness PRO14 victory over Connacht on January 5. Dave Kilcoyne (20 minutes), Stephen Archer (40), CJ Stander (29) and Conor Murray (30), who all started against Gloucester, were on the bench against Connacht.

Only Mike Haley, who has played 14 times this season, Rory Scannell (15) and Rhys Marshall (6) were spared game-time in Galway last weekend. Marshall is just returning from three months on the sideline with a hamstring injury. 20 of Munster's European squad saw action at The Sportsground.

Champions Cup squad had played against Connacht six days previous AND they were the away side for both matches, meaning less chance to rest and recuperate.

By why let the facts get in the way of a good moan?