Speaking at the launch of KBC's Wilton Hub, former Irish Lion David Wallace gave his thoughts on a World Cup hangover, on the challenges facing Irish rugby, and on Leo Cullen's reign at Leinster so far.
It's a tough time for Irish rugby fans. After Ireland's harrowing World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina, many Irish players were looking forward to the safety of their provinces. After the last two World Cups, Irish provinces had won the European Cup.
It doesn't look like that will happen again, with tough draws and poor results spoiling the mood in rugby country.
First things first, is this a World Cup hangover for the provinces - or is it something else? Wallace isn't so sure. He thinks its more down to the quality of the competition from the English and the French clubs. He thinks that the new European tournament with one fewer pool than in 2011 means that the standards are higher - and bringing World Cup stars back in for their first games for the province in Europe was never going to be good against English teams who have had longer together after their international exploits.
It's something that should worry Irish rugby, with the huge amounts of money at the disposal of the lower English and French clubs outweighing what the provinces can afford - it's hard to imagine what Ireland can do to change the tide. But Wallace is adamant that there are things that the IRFU can do. Amidst rumours that the likes of Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan will be leaving these shores, what can the IRFU do?
According to Wallace, the AIL is a resource that Irish rugby isn't making enough use of:
You've got to develop your structures in your country. Maybe for too long, we've let the AIL and the clubs row their own boat and not used them as a decent feeder system into the provinces. So many players are being lost, and falling through the gaps, and players coming into the game late. If they're not in these academy systems early on then they may not make it, and I think we need to strengthen the competitiveness of the AIL and get the guys who are not in the first 23 of the provinces to playing as much as possible in the AIL and playing regularly it'll strengthen that competition.
You can't just get 10-15 guys into the academy and think that will suffice, you need to spread the net wider. We're not picking up on the players who are coming into the game later, like John Hayes.
Wallace points to the Currie Cup in South Africa, and the ITM Cup in New Zealand as successful third-tier tournaments that produce players for regions and countries, that the AIL can learn from. He does acknowledge that a global calendar and some adjustments needs to happen for the AIL to successfully mimic how those competitions run. Wallace thinks there are too many games in the year - citing the example of the Top 14 playing into June. This also means that the provinces are in the middle of a 16 game run - one that makes the postponement of Munster's game against Stade Francais, and Ulster's against Oyonnax difficult to reschedule.
Wallace doesn't think that Munster will be too upset with that postponement though. It's easy to see why; there are plenty of positives for Munster to take. They will be a little more fresh now in this long run of games, and will face a French team later in the competition - when the Top 14 clubs might have less interest in the tournament. It also means that Munster's World Cup stars will be accustomed to the Munster's frame of mind when the game comes, instead of being unprepared like Leinster were against Wasps.
Because it was an away game. If we met Stade Francais later on and they have lost a few games, they could be in a different psychological frame of mind - maybe focusing on the Top 14. So having that away game later on might be a little bit easier, if Stade Francais are out of it.
As for Leo Cullen, the new Leinster coach who has lead the province to second in the Pro 12 with six wins from eight using 50 players before bringing in their World Cup stars for the Champions Cup disasters. Is it too soon to judge Cullen?
Ah yeah, ah yeah.
We do get a bit ahead of ourselves don't we? With Leinster beating Ulster in a forgettable Pro 12 game last night, it does appear that Leinster's Ireland contingent need more time to assimilate themselves back into day-to-day matters.
At least it's meant we got to unearth Josh van der Flier - who wouldn't have been given a chance before. He's certainly exciting Wallace.
David Wallace was speaking at the official opening of KBC's new hub in Wilton Shopping Centre on Sarsfield Road, Cork. The Wilton hub offers a relaxed, modern space to meet with personal finance specialists on KBC’s full range of competitive products and offers. For more information log onto www.kbc.ie
Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE