Leinster Rugby flanker Sean O’Brien believes the financial gap between French and Irish clubs is set to continue but insists in his case he wanted to try and find another level with Leinster. O’Brien who was heavily linked with Toulon but turned down a move the Top 14 to remain at Leinster and try to bring them back to the top of European club rugby.
“It (financial gap) probably is going to increase. The Frenchies don’t mind throwing it around, you know? It’s going to be very attractive for players to go over there, but you think about what you’ve grown over the past six/seven years.
“Especially in my case, being there from the start of this whole organisation and development, it’s certainly attractive to stay here and try and kick it on to another level. From the players’ point of view, that’s what we have to try and do as a group – really up our standards probably more so than last year and try and win Europe again.”
The French clubs in this season’s European Champions Rugby Cup have been busy in the recruiting stakes with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, James O’Connor (both Toulon), Toby Flood (Toulouse), Zac Guilford, Jonathan Davies (both Clermont) and Australian captain Ben Mowen (Montpellier) tempted by the Top 14 riches. But despite Kane Douglas being the only player brought in by Leinster for the coming year, O’Brien insists the Province can get back to the summit of European rugby.
Provinces good enough for Europe
“I’ve been asked the question – ‘Do you think the provinces are good enough to compete in Europe now?’ I think we are. I genuinely do. As I said before, you look back at that Toulon game and we lost by 12 points and we didn’t play any rugby. It was 6-6 at half time.
“With teams like that, you just have to get on top of them and keep going. There’s loads of potential, there’s loads of rugby in this team and we’ve worked hard. On our day, I believe we can beat anybody. It’s just about getting that consistency and making sure we’re ready to rock when the time comes.”
But an exit at the group phase two years ago and a quarter-final defeat to Toulon last year has many talking about transition and dreaming of past glories. But despite little in terms of recruitment, O’Brien insists Les Blues have the talent to compete for Europe’s biggest honour. They just have to keep their stars fit, something that hasn’t happened in the last few years.
“That’s obviously the target every year. We’re not panicking or we’re not saying ‘Jesus, it’s done now for a few years.’ It’s just that there are certain games during the year that we didn’t play well and perform well. I think the other thing is that we need our full deck to be in with a shout in Europe.
“Maybe we didn’t have that in crucial games this year. We slipped up this year at home in the Aviva; that would have got us a home quarter. Especially when you’ve a few injuries, getting that home quarter-final is a big thing and the plan is to make sure we’re in a good position come the end of the pool stages this year.”