Sunday 17 December 2017

Stuart: Blues can compete

Lancaster ranks the Leinster and Munster rivalry as big as it gets

Stuart Lancaster at Leinster squad training in Belfield.
Stuart Lancaster at Leinster squad training in Belfield.

Stuart Lancaster believes Leinster "can compete with the best in Europe on its best day."

The former England coach was employed for the sole purpose of making Leinster's 'best day' a more regular occurrence than last season.

It all begins and ends with the Champions Cup.

Former Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy wrote recently about the inherent difficulties for the Irish provinces to make the quarter-finals, given the new format and the bulging financial pockets of the English and French participants.

"It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds this season," he said.

"Last year, it was five from England and three from France.

"But, this year, the Irish, Welsh and Scottish teams will be tough to beat.

"Whoever is in your pool, you know you are going to have to play well."

The annual 'Pool of Death' label has given way to that of 'Life' if you feature in the same group this season as Italian club Zebre.

That honour has fallen to Connacht, Toulouse and Wasps.

"I think it's hard for any team," said Lancaster. "If you look at our pool, (Northampton) Saints, Castres, Montpellier, it is a tough pool.

"But, if you're Northampton, you are probably looking at it the same way.

"The standard of the top end of Europe has improved," he added.


"But being involved with this team now for two or three weeks and having seen some of the top teams in England in action, I think this team can compete with any in Europe on its best day."

Before any of that will come to pass, there is the significant obstacle of Munster in the PRO12 League on Saturday.

It is just one of many firsts Lancaster has come to experience in his few short weeks in Dublin.

"My first game in charge against Glasgow felt like a big game because of the late start to the season," he said.

"Then, we played the Edinburgh game. We got a good win there.

"The Ospreys game was when they were top of the table and then Cardiff who were then top of the table.

"The last two or three games, for me, were right up there in terms of getting a team mentally prepared.

"This will take it up another level," he said.

In one sense, the European campaign will get underway at the Aviva, because a defeat to Munster would reopen old questions about where Leinster are going.

"It will be a huge occasion," he stated.

"In the UK and Ireland, Leinster and Munster is top table in terms of derbies and so it should be.

"Certainly, for this campaign, I 100pc get the sense that the order of events is clearly Munster first, then Europe comes closely after that.

"There's a good feeling in the camp because of a couple of good wins.

"It was a good momentum builder towards what is going to be a critical three games."

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