David Flatman: It's no surprise the Irish sides keep winning

O'Driscoll and Co are exposed to highest pressure but they enjoy decent rest and quality training too

This afternoon we at Bath take on mighty Leinster, the reigning Heineken Cup champions. The truth is that we have not quite hit our straps over the past few weeks so, despite being on our own patch, we go into the game as underdogs. Certainly I would expect the bookmakers to offer us relatively slim odds.

Such is the recent Irish dominance in European competition, these odds would be similar even if we were on top form. Leinster and Munster have become the new European rugby superpowers.

The reason the French teams did well was – and is – often put down to cash alone, and there is some mileage in this most basic theory. Their budgets are enormous and, consequently, their squads are flooded with high-end international players. One goes off, another comes on. This is tough to beat.

But the Irish provinces seem to thrive for different reasons and this, I think, is because they are set up to peak for the Heineken Cup. The Pro12 is a good competition littered with top-class players, but many of them don't play that often.

Leading into a big European match or even an international, the starting line-ups will be less glitzy. Squad players clock on to put a shift in while the main men are wrapped in cotton wool for the upcoming must-win clash.

The lucky buggers. You see, while we are scrapping week in, week out for Premiership points that, hopefully,will see us qualify for the Heineken Cup, the likes of Leinster and Munster are all but guaranteed a place. There is also no relegation from the Pro12 so, while I do not doubt for a millisecond that these guys give everything they have to the cause, it just doesn't matter as much if they lose the odd league match. All this means that they arrive fresh and firing when the big days – like today – come around.

Significant cash has been injected into the Irish game – although not on the apparently unsustainable level as the French – and the benefits are plain to see, with four Heineken Cup wins in six seasons.

They have hung on to key players such as Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell when, presumably, there must have been some huge offers on the table from elsewhere. This does not suggest that the only reason they stayed is financial, of course, but very, very few professionals would turn down massive contracts for peanuts purely through loyalty, however unromantic this may seem.

So the Irish game's player retention is in excellent shape and so is its recruitment, which I believe has huge ramifications for the national side.

Unlike our Premiership, the Pro12 is not awash with foreign players. Those who are there are carefully selected and of the highest quality. Doug Howlett gave Munster immediate added value on a consistent basis. BJ Botha was so effective for Ulster that the suits down the road at Munster dug deep and persuaded him to cross the divide.

The thing to remember is that, with only four teams, there is only room for four players in each position. This means that every imported player takes the spot of a potential Irish international.

The Irish coaches simply have less choice, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. As we have seen in New Zealand over the generations, a smaller pool of players forces the coaches to develop what they have right from the start.

The one-bad-game-and-you're-out school of selection just could not work in Ireland. So the men deemed good enough to play invariably accrue caps at quite a rate, as well as all the experience that comes with it.

This higher likelihood of exposure to high-pressure, high-stakes rugby with a good amount of rest and quality training in between undoubtedly makes players more likely to perform at the right times.

This is not, I assure you, old-fashioned excuse making. I love to watch these teams play and admire them greatly. And I would never want to trade my place in the war zone that is the Premiership for anything.

Circumstances simply dictate that, when it comes to weekends like this, some teams have the time to prepare more perfectly than others. We Prem-dwellers have no gripe with this. The only gripe we have is with these darned bookies; never write off an underdog.

Bath v Leinster is on Sky Sports 2 today, kick-off 12.45pm

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star