“Ireland’s four provinces are facing an almost impossible task in their respective bids to push beyond the pool stages of the Champions Cup, never mind win it.”
Ominous but truthful words today from Gordon D’Arcy in his Irish Examiner column. All four provinces will compete in this years 2016/2017 Champions Cup but they will be competing in one of the most difficult championships in memory.
The meteoric financial rise of English and French clubs mean it is no longer a level playing field for all the teams competing for glory, and anyone who tells you otherwise is straight up kidding themselves.
D’Arcy has warned a rise in general standards across the board in the PRO12, as well as a renewed commitment by the IRFU to recruit top-class foreign talent, is crucial if Irish sides hope of making a dent on the continental stage again.
“It is nearly impossible to get out of your group now,” said D’Arcy.
“Most of these groups could be over before Christmas. The days of fighting until the last round, to my mind, are largely gone. They have made it largely impossible to qualify. There was a serious turn around in the power struggle. The English and the French wanted more control over it, which is exactly what they have got, but it is almost impossible for the Irish and the Scottish and the Welsh teams to deal with the power game of the England and the French teams.
“The budgets, the size of the squads – the goalposts have changed dramatically. The English and the French teams have gotten bigger and wealthier and the Celtic sides have largely stood still.
“It is now 25%-30% more difficult to qualify from your own group.”
Do you think any of the Irish provinces have a chance this year?