LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt loves it |when a plan comes together. And so does Edinburgh’s Michael Bradley.
The devaluation of the PRO12 League continues tonight when Leinster field just three of the players who started in the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Cardiff.
This is an understandable stance as Schmidt looks to divvy up game time among his bulging squad of players, with Fergus McFadden, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Shane Jennings all pushing hard for starts in the Clermont European semi-final.
Underneath, fly-half Ian Madigan, wing Dave Kearney and flanker Rhys Ruddock are among those looking to make further inroads into more regular first-team action.
The fact is that the PRO12 was little more than a preparatory school for the Heineken Cup. It was a means to a European end until last season.
Leinster were brave enough, or big enough – in terms of their squad size – to push for the Heineken Cup-Magners League double.
Ultimately, they came up one Munster Herculean effort short of that target. Leinster simply ran out of steam in the second-half of last season’s Magners League Grand Final at Thomond Park.
This season, Schmidt planned to get ahead and stay ahead in the newly sponsored Rabodirect PRO12 League.
Leinster recovered from a dodgy beginning to move ruthlessly away from Welsh and Irish challengers.
A 20-match unbeaten sequence saw this goal achieved and prevented Schmidt from back-loading Leinster’s end-of-season charge with first-team players.
By the time the Ospreys came, saw and conquered Leinster at the RDS three weeks\[Ian Winterton\]’ ago, Schmidt’s European champions had put clear water between them and the rest of the league. They are still 10 points ahead of the Swansea-based outfit.
The single greatest advantage of Leinster’s lead is that Schmidt can afford to rest his frontline Ireland internationals and World Cup winner Brad Thorn until they are most needed.
Moreover, captain Leo Cullen (Achilles) and Brian O’Driscoll (shoulder) have returned fresh and fit to produce their best form at a time in the season when they are closer to running on full rather than empty.
It would seem Bradley has taken the traditional Irish attitude to Edinburgh – to plan the season around the Heineken Cup.
And how it has paid off for them.
It should come as no surprise to see three PRO League clubs in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup when one considers that their bread-and-butter league comes a poor second to European glory.
The same cannot be said of English and French clubs, where the Premiership and the French Top 14 enjoy a superior historical connection, demanding 100pc commitment over the course of a brutally attritional season.
Welsh and Scottish clubs have not been able to draw their supporters, or prospective new patrons, into the PRO12 web.
The proof is right there in the simple fact that Edinburgh have won five out of 19 in the PRO12 to be second-from-bottom in the league. In contrast, they have taken seven out of eight scalps in Europe against better opposition.