Friday 14 December 2018

Luke Fitzgerald believes Leinster have amassed the 'best 30' the European Cup has ever seen

The Leinster team huddle following their victory over Wasps
The Leinster team huddle following their victory over Wasps
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Lawrence Dallaglio described the Leinster team that started the 52-3 victory over Wasps last Friday as the best XV the competition has ever seen, but former Leinster, Ireland and Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald has gone even further.

The performance of Rhys Ruddock, who was a late inclusion for the injured Dan Leavy, emphasised Leinster's strength in depth and that's where their real strength lies, according to Fitzgerald.

"They look fitter than everyone else and the bench they have... I actually disagree with Dallaglio, I think it's the strongest 23 and that's a key point. I'd go so far as saying the strongest 25, Rhys Ruddock is the 24th or 25th man. He came in to start and he was outstanding," he told The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast.

"He's probably behind the best 6 in the Six Nations in Pete O'Mahony, the guy is an unbelievable rugby player.

"I think you're looking at the best 30 in the competition ever. I really believe that.

"The only position where they look like they could get two injuries and they'd be short is outhalf and 9."

Irish Independent rugby correspondent Cian Tracey backed up Fitzgerald's assertion: "If you choose a second Leinster team, I think they would give most sides in Europe a game. That's where they are right now."

The one caveat of having such a strong squad is keeping the morale high among the fringe players.

In the hours before the annihilation of Wasps, players like Caelan Doris, Max Deegan, Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney were starring for the Leinster 'A' side in their 46-25 victory over their Munster rivals.

Speaking about the challenge of keeping such a vast player pool happy, Fitzgerald added: "I think what the coaching is really top class. Stuart Lancaster seems to be a top, top class coach. You're learning every day.

"What they really do well as well is that they are not afraid to make changes. They have great depth but the people outside the XV. Let's say the second half of the 30 we're talking about. All those guys get the opportunity to play with Johnny Sexton, they swap them in to the top team.

"The XV who are conceivably behind the first XV, they put two or three in at a time, they don't make wholesale changes, so you are playing regularly and you are playing with top quality guys and they get lots of minutes.

"You look at that bench with Scott Fardy and Sean O'Brien, they were coming on to attack them again on 50 minutes and that's how they've managed it so far.

"I still think that will be the big challenge for them, how do you retain some of the young guys?

"The way to retain them, and they look like really good players, is that you actually have to be really ruthless when people get to a certain age.

"Look at the Jordi Murphy thing, 'I think we're going to have to let you go, I'm going to pay the other guy €100,000 less and he'll be as good as you in two years'. I think that's what they are saying. They are the difficult decisions they have to get right to keep this going."

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

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