Brian O'Driscoll hits out at the poor quality of imports ahead of pivotal clashes
Ahead of a pivotal weekend for the Irish clubs in Europe, Brian O'Driscoll has hit out at the level of the Irish provinces' overseas signings and says the drop in quality of those coming from abroad is the main reason for a fall-off in Leinster, Munster and Ulster's performances.
The former Leinster centre said he does not believe that a World Cup hangover is the catalyst for the disappointing displays that saw his former side lose both of their opening games to Wasps and Bath, and Ulster hammered by Saracens at Kingspan Stadium.
Munster and Leinster have both left out overseas signings for their crucial games against Leicester Tigers and Toulon, with Australia second-row Mark Chisholm on the bench at Thomond Park tonight and Springbok full-back Zane Kirchner not even making the matchday squad for Leo Cullen's side's must-win visit to the European champions.
O'Driscoll highlighted Ulster's Ruan Pienaar as the one world-class overseas international player playing for an Irish province right now and said that increased budgets and the recruitment of a better calibre of player from abroad can help turn the Irish side's fortunes around.
"Essentially, the big issue for me is that I don't see any box-office players coming to Ireland," he said on his own website brianodriscoll.com. "Maybe with the exception of Ruan Pienaar who is a high quality international player, I don't see anyone like Rocky Elsom when he arrived in 2009, Dougie Howlett when he came to Munster, Johann Muller a World Cup winner with South Africa; I don't see these guys coming within the club set-up.
"Financially, I think we're not able to attract them anymore, that's why they're going to such European strongholds as Bordeaux Begles and Pau like Adam Ashley-Cooper and Conrad Smith; they mightn't win a whole lot but they'll get a decent pension. But we're not able to attract those sort of players.
"Even the likes of Wasps, Charles Piutau is coming to Ulster next year but he was magnificent against Leinster and he's a guy who you'd pay the admission fee to watch, George Smith is still doing it.
"Those are the magic moments that we're missing in the provinces because we don't have the quality of player that we used to have.
"I think that it's something we really need to look at, to pay big money for one marquee signing to reignite the interest in the provinces again and give an impetus to the squad as well, to see a world-class player coming into their midst that they can learn a huge amount from."