"That would be a positive" - Stuart Lancaster backs South African heavyweights for Guinness PRO14
"I think it would be a good thing really for us."
Much of the talk, following Leinster's Champions Cup elimination at the hands of Saracens, was about the Guinness PRO14 not providing a stern enough testing ground for Europe.
The reality of Leinster's plight is they lost a big element of the No.1 seed advantage by having to play their Champions Cup quarter final in an empty ground. Take, for example, Michael Rhodes pinging the chin of Johnny Sexton with poor tackle technique and ask if the Sarries flanker would have received more than a mere penalty for the offence had tens of thousands of Leinster supporters been baying for it.
Another element was how Saracens could manage the game-time of their top players to be in prime position for the Leinster match. The Irish province, on the other hand, had played a PRO14 semi and final against local rivals Munster and Ulster. Saracens and England prop Mako Vunipola did not play a single league game, when the season resumed, and went straight into the starting XV for the win over Leinster.
That being said, Leinster did go through their four PRO14 games, after the restart, looking a class apart from their closest rivals. They always seemed capable of finding an extra gear if they needed to. Munster and Ulster both scored early against them and were then kept, respectively, scoreless for 75 and 77 minutes.
Leinster have used 50+ players for each of their last three title-winning seasons and dominated a host of sides. Even with an average of 15 to 20 Leinster players being included in Ireland squads, during Test windows, Leinster have racked up big wins. Their record over the past three seasons reads - WINS: 50, DRAWS: 2, LOSSES: 11.
The inclusion of Cheetahs and Southern Kings in the past three years, has done little to slow Leinster's march but talks have been held about bulking up the South African contingent.
Even before the Australian and New Zealand unions proposed moving on with Super Rugby without South African involvement, the likes of the Stormers and Sharks had been interested in joining an expanded PRO14. The time difference and long-distance travel does not appeal to many of the Kiwis and Aussies, so the ideal solution may be an invite to make the PRO14 and PRO16, with six South African franchises included. The Cheetahs and Southern Kings look set to miss out.
Asked about the prospect of toughening up the PRO14 [Bulls are three-time Super Rugby winners and Lions reached three of the last four finals], Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster commented:
"I think there is scope for development in the PRO14 and there is talk at the moment of potentially more South African sides coming in. I think that would be a positive personally.
"I think that would add to the challenge which would be a good thing and without going too much into the evolution of club rugby in the world, I think it would be a good thing really for us."
Lancaster's view was backed up by Leinster scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park when he was asked about adding in more South African sides.
Players currently plying their trade with South Africa's four Super Rugby franchises include Siya Kolisi, Morné Steyn, Josh Strauss, Juandré Kruger, Jaco Kriel, Elton Jantjes, Steven Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Makazole Mapimpi, JP Pietersen and [pictured below] Duane Vermeulen.
Lancaster was also asked if other sides in Europe had an advantage, in being able to heavily recruit players from rival and foreign clubs.
"You look at teams who have gone on to win European Cups, who were maybe 'buying clubs'. Take a Toulon as an example - they have their days in the sun and they have their years.
"But is it sustainable? And I look at Exeter as an example and Toulouse now who are building a homegrown squad with one or two players from outside and I think that's very much the model that Leinster have and should persist with, particularly in the way in which the game is going to be challenged over the next 12, 18 or 24 months with the financial challenges that will face teams. To have a homegrown team, I think, is a real asset."
Despite having lost Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Barry Daly from their backline in the past six months, Leinster have no pressing plans to recruit from outside. The wider squad will definitely be needed in late October and all through November, into early December, as Andy Farrell heavily dips into the Leinster ranks for Ireland's slate of fixtures.