Tadhg Furlong has slammed the suggestion that Leinster rest their star players so as to prioritise the European Champions Cup, but the Ireland and Lions tighthead prop admitted there was “a bigger feel” around the reigning champions in the run-up to Sunday’s crucial final pool match away to Wasps.
The management of players’ workload is always a hot topic as fans and pundits search for clues to why Ireland’s provinces are outperforming the English clubs in the European Cup. Unless Exeter produce a shock win in Munster on Saturday, only Saracens of England’s seven participants will qualify for the quarter-finals in March, whereas all three Irish sides – Leinster, Munster and Ulster – are well set to make it.
A simple Ireland-England comparison shows Furlong has played 13 matches this season – starting all five European pool games and featuring six times in the Pro14 for Leinster, plus two autumn internationals. The Exeter tighthead Harry Williams has played 17 matches – 13 in Europe and the Premiership for his club, and four autumn internationals for England.
Furlong, rated by many as the world’s finest No 3 after his exploits with the Lions in 2017 and helping Ireland beat the All Blacks in November, said: “I don’t think we are rested just to play in Europe. In the course of this season I started off in the PRO14, which led into Europe, then we were in and out of the November Tests, into Europe again and we had the high-pressure inter-provincial match [with Munster] over Christmas, a derby game. It is a competitive squad [at Leinster] and it is not like we haven’t played since [Champions Cup] round four.
“When Europe does roll around it means a massive amount to the club here and it means a massive amount to all the Irish provinces. There is definitely a bigger feel about the place, it is a big week, lads are on their toes in terms of selection and everyone is out to impress.”
Leinster need a win at Wasps to ensure a home quarter-final as one of the four best pool winners. Of the 88 quarter-finals played since the European Cup began, 68 have been won by the home team, and Munster are the only side to win the competition after being away in the last eight, in 2007-8. “A home quarter-final is definitely the ultimate goal for us,” Furlong said. “You have those little extra home comforts and it is very, very hard to win away from home in the Champions Cup. If you’re not on it, it’s going to be a long day against Premiership clubs. They tend to have big, big humans.”
Ireland vs England: 4.45pm (GMT) 2 February 2019, Aviva Stadium
Scotland vs Ireland: 2.15pm (GMT) 9 February 2019, Murrayfield
Italy vs Ireland: 3pm (GMT) 24 February 2019, Stadio Olimpico
Ireland vs France: 3pm (GMT) 10 March 2019, Aviva Stadium
Wales vs Ireland: 2.45pm (GMT) 16 March 2019, Principality Stadium
Pick up a copy of i for news, interviews and expert analysis from rugby correspondent Hugh Godwin throughout the Six Nations
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