A humbling defeat in Thomond Park and three losses from three. It is unprecedented.
Ulster may have been impressive this weekend, but are Toulouse really a force to be reckoned with? Has everybody forgotten that only a couple of weeks ago when Ulster took on real contenders for the crown in Saracens they were savagely beaten- at home. The fact of the matter is simple. The Irish provinces have never looked so bad. People can talk about Connacht’s growth but they are still a million miles away from being a European Champions Cup side, never mind challengers. Leinster and Munster are crumbling.
For the past few years IRFU performance director David Nucifora and head coach Joe Schmidt have been given complete control. All the Irish provincial eggs were put into one basket with one goal- being real contenders at the Rugby World Cup. Back to back Six Nations came, but injuries fell fowl in England and four years went down the drain. Out at the quarter final stages again. Is it Schmidt or Nucifora’s fault Ireland got knocked out? Of course not. A nation like Ireland do not have the depth in their pool of players that the other top nations have. The only way Ireland were ever to have a chance was to make it the whole way through with little to no injuries. The issue is, rugby isn’t exactly the softest of sports. Injuries are part and parcel, it was always going to happen.
Since Nucifora and Schmidt took up their respective roles the National side has gone from strength to strength. You cannot knock what they have done. However it seems that all of Ireland’s limited resources were pumped into what they felt like was there biggest shot at World Cup glory. We’re now left with a provincial game that is in tatters. Arguably Ireland’s two biggest provinces over the last decade or so now find themselves sliding downhill at an astronomical rate. The resources are simply not there to help them and things are only going to get worse. Both provinces are now being coached by former players who have absolutely zero experience because the money is simply not there . They now face the terrifying prospect of losing whats left of their star players to the cash rich shores of England and France.
To make matters worse the AIL is in tatters, the ‘A’ league is a farce and the Academies are not up to scratch yet Nucifora wants complete focus on the National pool. One of the biggest mistakes the provinces made in recent times was the introduction of the ‘A’ league. The B&I Cup, whatever you want to call it is the most ridiculous competition ever created. It all sounded great for the backroom teams at the provinces. No scouts to send around, all the players under one roof playing against professional competition. This system is flawless. Wrong.
Take Munster as a prime example. The province in the most trouble of all. Now instead of fringe players playing top tier AIL games in front of thousands of fans, to their best of their ability for their club crest on a Saturday afternoon- they head down to Kinsale on a Friday night and play in front of a crowd of 50 people against some English side called ‘The Barmby Army’ or whatever. Give me Shannon vs Garryowen any day of the week. Young Munster and Garryowen are now the only Limerick sides left in the top division. Gone are the days of Shannon’s famous four in a row. UL Bohs have fallen away to nothing. No one wants to watch the A’s. No one wants to watch the AIL because the A’s took all the players. No one wants to go to Thomond Park anymore because the fans know whats wrong with their province but can’t do anything about it. If you were given the option of watching or not watching something you love ripped apart in front of you, would you watch it?
Under Leo Cullen Leinster are doomed. Under Anthony Foley Munster are doomed. Without the proper resources Connacht will never be able to take their province to the next level. Ulster have hope under Les Kiss, but lack depth. Joe and David have gotten their way for the past few years. They had their chance, and while they were unlucky with injuries- they blew it. Now its time for the IRFU to stand up and save their provinces. They need cash, they need coaches, they need players, they need trophies. It’s time to take a step back from the National side and rebuild the provinces. Ask any Munster, Leinster, Ulster or Connacht fan what they would prefer. Another Six Nations or a European Cup for their province. I can guess.
– Jason Hennessy