Rugby Union

Des Berry: 'How the success of provinces can work against Ireland at World Cup'

Ireland shouldn’t look to England or New Zealand or South Africa when it comes to cracking the code to the World Cup semi-final.

They need look no further than Celtic neighbours Wales, who made their third semi-final in Japan, following on from 1987 and 2011.

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The comparisons drawn between the Welsh and Irish clubs might suggest the success of the Irish provinces is working against the World Cup interests of Ireland.

The Welsh clubs are not truly competitive.

Okay, The Ospreys were up there challenging in the League until fading in latter years.

It was Scarlets’ turn to have a go at the big time until they stalled last season.

In general, they are losing, playing on the backfoot all the time. They don’t do well in the PRO14, are not really a factor in Europe.

In other words, they don’t play in big games. They don’t have those pressure moments on a constant basis.

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When they play for Wales, it’s their only big game.

All four Irish provinces made the PRO14 play-offs last season. None of the Welsh clubs were there in a Grand Slam season.

Last year, three of the provinces made the European Cup quarter-finals, two made the semi-finals and Leinster made the final.

Neither Welsh club Scarlets or Cardiff Blues came close to making the last eight.

The Irish provinces have a history, an umbilical tie to Europe that is remarkable, all built on seven titles between three of them.

There is the pressure to qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals and there is the pressure from what you do when you get there.

Obviously, the PRO14 League does not have the “dog eat dog” consequences of relegation, which is now a real possibility for Saracens in the Premiership.

Leinster have already pocketed 24 points from 25 with what currently constitutes their second team.

The Ireland internationals are on their way back, Robbie Henshaw, Cian Healy, Luke McGrath and Andrew Porter starting against Connacht this evening, Rhys Ruddock and Rob Kearney set for time from the bench.

The player management programme is designed to prolong the Ireland internationals’ careers by limiting their exposure to games – the less important ones.

They just never get the chance to decompress, to take their foot off the gas in the same way as the Welsh.

Every game Jonathan Sexton and James Ryan plays is a big game.

Rewinding to 2018. They kept going and going from Europe to the Six Nations, back to Europe and the PRO14 play-offs, one big game after another.

After all of that, Ireland somehow came through to win a test series 2-1 in Australia when they were out on their feet.

It has to tell somewhere down the line.

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