herald

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Joe: We can't buy glory

"If you build it, they will come" - The Field of Dreams. If you win, they will come again. That is why Leinster were able to attract 48,964 patrons to the Aviva Stadium to witness the probable end of their four-year domination of European rugby.

The excuses have been there for years. They just never had to be made, while Leinster were winning. The Irish Rugby Football Union has developed a sound and reasoned model for the flourishing of the game here.

The simple and sad fact is that this model has limitations, the sort of limitations French clubs are not endowed with if they have the money to invest.

And boy Clermont Auvergne can buy success. They have a squad littered with 11 nationalities; 17 foreign players from Portugal, Wales, Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, Georgia, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, South Africa and France.

Leinster have to build success. They cannot go out and find an immediate world-class solution to their shortcomings. These are the realities of their European rugby.

"It is a luxury we don't have," said Schmidt.

"If you lose Aurelien Rougerie, you put in Regan King, ex-All Black. If you lose Wesley Fofana, you put in Benson Stanley, ex-All Black.

"Their second row - Julien Pierre didn't even make their squad and he's played 30-odd Tests for France," he said, in reference to Clermont's playing resources being underpinned, of course, by their financial resources.

This means Clermont's Vern Cotter has the means to make wholesale changes to his squad or, merely, to supplement his star-spangled outfit with even more world-class players.

Leinster's Schmidt has to look to who is coming through the Academy structure or face the wrath of others for signing an Ireland international second row like Mike McCarthy.

Even then, he is limited. Don't forget, the only reason Brad Thorn was signed last season was because it was on a short-term, three-month contract. Leinster simply couldn't afford his salary.

Despite Leinster's IRFU regulated salary and player caps, they have won three Heineken Cups in the last four years to stand alone.

However, the French are coming. Clermont and Toulon lead their respective pools without suffering a single loss. Harlequins have managed to do the same, but in the weakest quartet of the competition.

You can understand how Schmidt feels about 'Quins playing home and away against Biarritz, Connacht and Zebre when he has been dealt Clermont, Exeter Chiefs and The Scarlets.

Interestingly, Leinster hold a runners-up spot at present with five French clubs in Toulouse, Racing Metro, Castres, Montpellier and Biarritz.

Of course, Schmidt is a winner to the marrow of his bones. He could concede defeat to the muscle of his old club, but not to the ingenuity or intelligence of his old friend Cotter.

"I think we out-thought them a little bit last week and they just out-muscled us this week," stated Schmidt.

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