Wednesday 23 January 2019

'The key is getting the balance right' - Are there too many Leinster players playing with other provinces?

Cian Kelleher (left), Andrew Conway (centre) and John Cooney (right).
Cian Kelleher (left), Andrew Conway (centre) and John Cooney (right).

Leinster rugby has never been stronger, with the province currently possessing squad depth the envy of clubs teams around the world.

Leo Cullen can almost call on two full teams of international players, with the Leinster coaching staff rotating their team to perfection last term en route to a PRO 14/Champions Cup double. One knock-on effect of Leinster's strength in depth has been that a lot of homegrown talent has been forced to move away in order to get proper game time.

With the IRFU enforcing an unofficial policy of only selecting players based in Ireland, Munster, Connacht and Ulster have all been beneficiaries of Leinster's talent overspill.

Last weekend, as Leinster hosted Ulster and Munster visited Connacht to round off the festive inter-provincials ties, 27 of the 60 starters were from Leinster.

Cullen's side fielded 13, Connacht had six while Ulster and Munster had four each. While players such as Tadhg Beirne, John Cooney and Tom Farrell have all made their breakthroughs away from their home team, the question has been asked as to whether the influx of Leinster players into the other provinces dilutes the local identity of the teams and if eventually fans will become unhappy if the majority of their side if made up of ex-Leinster players.

Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast, Luke Fitzgerald thinks that Irish rugby is benefiting from the increase in player momevement, and doesn't think the amount of Leinster players plying their trade elsewhere is an issue.

"It is a pretty small talent pool and the population is very skewed," Fitzgerald said.

"That's where the most people are playing. The focus in other provinces is very much on developing their own talent but the schools system might be more developed in Leinster. I don't see a problem with it. As long as it is Irish talent then you can see us progressing here. As long as they are Irish, because it is all the same system to me."

Fitzgerald added that as long as the nucleus of the provinces remain local, teams are right to continue to strengthen their squads with Irish talent - no matter what province they come from.

"I still think you need to have the local guys around - and they do," Fitzgerald said.

"There is a mix. You need a few of the local heroes like Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray. They are always going to have a big local presence and they are their best players. You just need to supplement that. I think the nucleus of the team should be local but you can't stop the furtherment of the team by not supplementing where you have to so that the team can perform. Otherwise people like Jacob Stockdale could be standing out there with no opportunity to score tries. Ulster needed Marty Moore in the scrum. They needed Jordi Murphy because Marcell Coetzee was injured all the time. You need these guys so the local guys can go out and perform. They key is getting the balance right and you do need a balance."

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, 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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