Gordon D’Arcy believes that the shortened format of the United Rugby Championship has harmed Leinster’s chances of winning the tournament.
Leinster suffered their first loss of the URC season on Saturday night, as Ulster claimed a deserved 20-10 victory against Leo Cullen’s side at the RDS Arena.
The home side were without the majority of their first-choice players, with the exception of Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong, while Ulster named a team that was close to full-strength, with Ireland internationals Iain Henderson and Robert Baloucoune absent.
D’Arcy was writing in his column for The Irish Times and argued that the shortened league format and Ireland’s reliance on Leinster players will make it more difficult for his former side to win the URC.
Gordon D’Arcy on why the URC’s format doesn’t suit Leinster.
“The fact that the URC largely shuts down for the two international test windows, the Autumn Nations Series and five of the seven weeks in the Six Nations Championship – the two rest weeks aside – most URC clubs will be in a position to field stronger teams for the majority of the 18 rounds of matches in the league stage of the tournament,” D’Arcy wrote.
“From a numbers and player welfare perspective Leinster may have to be more judicious in how they manage their playing roster.
“There could be five or six matches in which they will field a team similar to the one that took the pitch against Ulster.
“In seasons past they were able to mix and match during the international windows without compromising the ability to get a result because generally speaking their opponents were also missing personnel.
“That won’t be the case under the new format.”
? | Disappointing result last night but now our focus turns to another big interprovincial against Connacht on Friday.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) November 28, 2021
Fewer games aims to improve quality.
In the 2018/19 Pro14 season (the last not to be affected by the pandemic) each team played 21 regular season games. In the URC, each team plays a total of 18 regular season games, in an effort to improve the quality of the league.
Tournament organisers have done so to ensure that there are less clashes with international fixtures, and also to encourage teams to play full-strength teams more often.
As D’Arcy has argued, Leinster will often be unable to field a full-strength team in the weeks before and after international matches, as many of their players will be being rested for Ireland duty.
Leinster certainly aren’t alone in providing plenty of players to their national team, although no other club in the URC sees 12 of their players start in test matches, as was the case in Ireland’s games against Japan and New Zealand last month.