Will the Rugby World Cup disappointment have any impact on the Irish provinces as they embark on their European campaigns?

The dynamic between club and country in Ireland has often been for one to step forward when the other falters.

A morale-boosting run from one of Munster, Leinster or Ulster would certainly be welcome. Who is best equipped to provide that lift?

The Rugby World Cup emphasised that now more than ever, rugby is about attack. At critical moments, strategies based on strong defence, attritional ball retention and ‘winning the collisions’ were trumped by high skill.

Creativity is back in vogue, but will that persist?

Conditions are – of course – key. RWC 2015 was played out on sound pitches and unseasonably high temperatures.

As the ground turns and temperatures drop, will that emphasis on pace, passing and keeping the ball alive at all costs persist or will ‘winter rugby’ be the order of the day?

The suspicion must be that we will see plenty of the latter.

The strength of the French challenge is also centrally important to Irish prospects.

Toulon have won three European Cups in-a-row, contesting two of those finals against Clermont, but the aura that once surrounded the French national side is in tatters.

Has that leaked down to the top club teams?

French club rugby is nothing if not consistent and the Top 14 remains overwhelmingly dominated by home wins. The home side has won 93% of matches in eight rounds of the competition to date.

Ulster have the first opportunity to take points against the head, travelling to Oyonnax for what already looks like a ‘must win’ match.

The surprise sacking of Olivier Azam after a poor start to the season should give Les Kiss and his side a chance to land a successful smash and grab at a notoriously tough venue.

Ulster do at least have emerging strength in those key areas. At second row, Iain Henderson is close to the top echelons in his position while Stuart McCloskey is building a serious reputation at centre.

The backline has been weakened by the Rugby World Cup campaign with both Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne out of the picture as a result of injuries sustained on Ireland duty.

But those long-term absences offset slightly by the return of Andrew Trimble, Louis Ludik, Nick Williams, Luke Marshall and Roger Wilson in time for this weekend.

Ulster also have the excellent Ruan Pienaar back in harness.

Ulster will also have to cope with playing on an artificial 3G artificial pitch, a surface they have experienced in Cardiff but one that can still take some getting used to.

They need this one, and must also win three from three at Ravenhill, if they are to advance with tougher tests to come.

Ultimately, the fact that Europe matters more may just swing thins in their favour this weekend.

Many would argue that Leinster are the province best-equipped to thrive in Europe this season.

Club legend Leo Cullen is in charge with a solid looking team including returned former defence coach Kurt McQuilkin and Joe Schmidt-disciple Girvan Dempsey.

On the playing side, Isa Nacewa and Jonny Sexton are back in the fold, whilethere is emerging young talent coming through and a corps of high-qualityoperators in what should be the prime of their careers.

The likes of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien turned down big-money moves to France in order to be part of campaigns like this.

It remains to be seen how well these parts will gel and there are potential sticking points, while it must also be factored in that for all his experience and leadership qualities, Cullen is on a steep learning curve.

Unlike his first stint, Sexton will have to run the backline without Brian O’Driscoll – a vital factor in the success of the out-half’s trademark loops.

There are also doubts about depth and mobility in the tight five, though further development from Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath should at least boost Leinster in the propping positions.

Since the likes of Cullen and Nathan Hines were in their pomp three or four years ago, Leinster have struggled to field effective combinations at lock.

In the backline, there is obvious individual skill but over the last few years there has simply not been enough end product or cohesion.

But Cullen’s initial moves on the coaching front have been positively oriented with young talent getting plenty of opportunity and a welcome sense of ambition to the play.

Wasps are a tricky proposition in the opener but Leinster have generally had the better end of what has been a fairly frequent fixture over the years and should be able to continue that trend at the RDS on Sunday.

Munster have less depth and embarking on a European campaign without spiritual leader Paul O’Connell must also be considered to be up against it in terms of qualifying.

The positive is the group. Treviso should be beatable at home and away while Leicester and Stade Francais are big clubs but an echelon below the continent’s true powerhouses.

They begin with the easiest task of all – the Italians at home.

The sense that an exciting backline could emerge with Francis Saili providing power and pace in the key outside-centre position and an interesting selection in Andrew Conway at full-back.

Conway was arguably Leinster’s best back a couple of seasons ago and now has a clear opportunity to shine in a key attacking position ahead of what could be a breakout season.


Oyonnax 15-23 Ulster

Leinster 28-19 Wasps

Munster 37-11 Treviso