Rory Best has argued that a lack of competitive matches in this season’s Guinness Pro14 left Leinster ill-prepared for their game against La Rochelle.
Leinster’s European hopes were ended by a physically dominant La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday, despite the province getting off to a flying start.
The former Ireland and Ulster captain was speaking on RTE’s Game On and believes Leinster’s loss was largely down to the lack of pressure the reigning Pro14 champions are put under in their league fixtures.
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“There is probably an argument to say that they don’t get many games where they’re put under pressure like that. At the end of the day, their second team coasts to the Pro14 or Pro16 or whatever it’s going to be next year,” Best said.
“I think there’s a real sense now that they need to try and find a way to get better league rugby for Leinster because they’re so good but also for Ulster to prepare them for these big moments.
“I think they’ve got to find a way to get the strongest teams playing against each other. When you look at the Pro14 the last couple of years before we bring the South African teams into it, it doesn’t really excite you.”
Would introducing relegation to the Pro16 improve the standard?
The introduction of the four former Super Rugby South African sides should significantly boost the amount of talent in the league, as a large number of World Cup-winning Springboks will be playing in the soon to be Pro16.
However, Best was unsure of whether the introduction of the South African sides would improve things if the likes of Leinster felt that they did not need to play their strongest team against them to guarantee play-off rugby.
The Ulsterman believes splitting the league into a two-tier competition would significantly raise the intensity of the average match in the Pro16.
“Will the South African teams change that? Only if you can get opportunities where you can play your full team and I think they’ve got to find a way and for me I would be trying to structure it a little bit differently,” Best commented.
“Maybe instead of having two conferences that they think are equal, just have promotion and relegation across two conferences and saying, ‘We’re going to play less games but we’re going to get our best players [involved] and those games in Conference A are going to be the best examples of our best teams playing against each other.'”