Final European Champions Cup: Unrivalled depth drives Leinster’s juggernaut

Leinster celebrate a try
Leinster seeks to be Champions of Europe for a fifth time, breaking all records
Venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseille Date: Saturday, 28 Mai Kick-off: 16:45 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary available on the BBC Sport website

In the midst of a variety of commercial aspirations it was hoped that the United Rugby Championship would help create a more competitive team in a league that had been difficult to capture the eye.

Leinster, the Pro14's greatest players, were both its blessing and its curse. The league's only true elite side, Leinster, won four consecutive titles.

With the introduction of four South African sides, the product was more appealing. The battle for European spots as well as the quarter-finals of home play-off went down to the final weekend.

But it didn't alter everything.

“This year it took Leinster all to the second final game to earn their normal spot on the top,” said Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.

They were awarded the top seed, with the promise that they would play in home matches up to and including the final. Leo Cullen and his team continue to dominate the league as a side with most of Ireland in their squad.

The problem is that Leinster's Ireland contingent wasn't very active.

They are largely a support role in URC and rely on their team-mates for the hard work. They will be in Marseille Saturday to support the European Champions Cup.

One of the 13 Ireland internationals who started the provincial's semi-final defeat of Toulouse was not present in more that a third their 18 league matches.

All of them participated in more international Test matches than league games this season, except James Lowe, who only played six.

The increased competition in URC – which ended with Leinster winning the title – has the drawback that the best teams rarely use their best players.

Last weekend, Ben Murphy, the academy scrum-half came on against Munster to become Leinster's 60th player.

Ben Murphy
Ben Murphy, who was on the bench for Leinster's victory over Munster, became the province's 60th active player this season.

Their win over inter-provincial rivals, who arrived in Dublin with Joey Carbery and Conor Murray as starters, was won by something between their second- and third-string teams. It served as a reminder about their unparalleled depth.

It is possible that none of the 23-man URC squads who beat Munster, considered to be among the URC's “best of the rest”, will make Saturday's Champions Cup matchday squad.

Jordan Larmour might have been a good choice for the bench because of his twinkle-toed brilliance, but there seem to not be many spots left.

Leinster is so deep that they don't rotate but switch out their entire team when it gets more difficult.

It is clear that the greatest benefit of this system is the freshness and enthusiasm with which players go into big games. The province's most prominent stars won't be tired in the last moments of the season.

Only Josh van der Flier, Garry Ringrose and Garry Ringrose played more than 20 matches for club or country among the 13 internationals who started against Toulouse since September.

It is even better that their biggest players usually play together, even when they do. They are the only group of players that can juggle club and international commitments with the same level of consistency year-round regarding the players around. Eddie Jones was right when he awarded the title of world's most cohesive team to Ireland.

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton is not playing in any league matches since October

A squad that is so large that different playing panels can compete on two fronts for silverware allows for efficient workload management. This is critical to the success and longevity of the team as well as of Ireland.

Johnny Sexton, an experienced international from Ireland, plays almost exclusively in international tests or European club rugby. His three league appearances were handed to him at the beginning of the season. The last was on 16 Oct., so that he could get over any summer rust.

Leinster and Ireland are looking to keep Sexton at his best with retirement in sight after next year's World Cup. They will limit the time he plays, but ensure that he is playing against elite opposition.

It's a set up that Sexton's former foe, Ronan O'Gara, has noticed. Ronan O'Gara is Ronan's friend and La Rochelle sideline between Leinster's fifth European crown and Leinster.

O'Gara stated that Johnny was probably not playing rugby as well as he is now twelve months ago.

“First, he is a great player and he loves rugby. Rugby is a great game, so it's worth playing for as many hours as you can.

Leinster is a great landing spot if the goal is to reach the highest level of play.

Leave a Comment