Sport Rugby

Monday 24 July 2017

Easterby looking to profit as Wales tie hits Cardiff resources

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

ON PAPER, tomorrow night's Pro12 clash at the RDS should be one of the highlights of the league season.

The European champions take on one of the continent's rising forces, who could lay down a real marker by winning in Dublin to go level on points with Leinster going into the Heineken Cup double-headers next week.

Unfortunately, the reality of the league's place in rugby's hierarchy means that this is unlikely to materialise because Cardiff will cross the Irish Sea with a team packed with out-of-favour Welsh players, ageing New Zealanders and Dan Parks.

That's because the Welsh Rugby Union, shorn of the usual revenue of the Autumn Internationals due to the World Cup, have shoe-horned a rogue Test into the fixture list.

Instead of playing for their club, eight of the Blues' players are preparing to face Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Warren Gatland has described the fixture as a game "a little bit too far" and, certainly, it seems to devalue the club competitions.

The regions will get their players back just days before the first of their back-to-back Heineken Cup pool games. After a flying start, it would appear to be a hindrance.

Leinster team manager Guy Easterby can see the financial logic in playing the international, but he can understand if the clubs aren't happy.

"I see Warren was quoted in the paper saying they were doing it to get some money for their regional sides. He has probably put a bit of a spin on it there, it is obviously about revenue and getting people through the gate," he said.

"There is the feel-good factor in Wales now and you know that they are going to be able to sell out the stadium.

"I guess we wouldn't be happy if Ireland were doing it but I can understand it."

Easterby argues that, even without their front-liners, Cardiff still have the quality needed to hurt Leinster.

"There are still some great players involved on both sides," the former Ireland international said.

"It's not like it is a team where you don't know who is playing for them. They are still very strong. They have recruited very well with their foreign players and the likes of (Xavier) Rush and (Paul) Tito have been their last two captains."

But it's a claim that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Cardiff teams of varying strength have come and gone from Dublin without success, and there is little to suggest that this team will be any different.

The Blues' last win in Dublin came in the 2003/4 season. They drew the following year and have left with the odd bonus point since.

No matter the quality of their imports, the Welsh region have struggled to match Leinster at home.

All of which is a shame, because the Blues are flying in the Heineken Cup under the guidance of their young joint-coaches Gareth Baber and Justin Burnell, who have reignited the team since taking over from Wasps-bound Dai Young.

Easterby admitted that, as a capital-city club, Cardiff might be eyeing Leinster as a template for success.

"I certainly think they will look at Leinster and see what we've achieved," he said.

"I guess that soft underbelly that people talk about, that we were accused of in the past, has certainly gone out of our environment and Cardiff seem to be moving in the same direction."

Their improvement seems clear, but due to the WRU's money-making gambit, it would appear that the revolution will be put on hold tomorrow night.

Irish Independent

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