FORMER Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris has blamed the IRFU rules in place to help the national team for the provinces' poor European showing.
The recently-retired Ulster flanker said the Union is standing in the way of the provinces recruiting the best players from overseas in order to promote the national team.
Ferris' old team are effectively out of the running for the European quarter-finals, while Munster and Leinster have plenty of work to do to qualify.
The rules around non-Irish qualified players are set to tighten next season for three of the four provinces, with Leinster, Ulster and Munster allowed have four in total including one 'Special Project' player. And Ferris believes the rules in place are holding them back.
"The thing is, Leinster, Munster and Ulster do have the money there, they just can't utilise it to bring the players in because of the way the IRFU structure it," Ferris told the BBC.
"They want to bring their Irish guys through and get them into a red, white or blue shirt early instead of bringing in a South African, a world-class player.
"There's talk of Toulon bringing in Richie McCaw in after the World Cup, and we're bringing in Clive Ross; no disrespect to Clive Ross but he's somebody who has played for Lansdowne for the last few seasons and is trying to make the step up.
"Ulster Rugby have gone on about the war-chest they have for the last five years, the way they're building the club and how they want to compete with the best. If they want to do that, they have to have the big names year in, year out. You lose four or five big names and only bring in two then that's not going to cut it.
"The reverse side is you see the national team performing very well, maybe that's because the guys are getting the game time in big games."
Leinster are hoping to retain the services of Springbok Zane Kirchner when his contract expires at the end of this season.