Donal Lenihan believes the international game is in danger of becoming “usurped” by powerful clubs, but insists judgement on the Champions Cup should be reserved for another season.
Saracens claimed their first title in Europe’s premier competition when they defeated 21-9 Racing Metro in Lyon in difficult conditions, though many viewers were left unimpressed by the standard of play in the tryless final.
With BT and Sky Sports splitting the TV contract, falling attendances and Irish provinces failing to emerge from the pool stages, questions have been asked about the future of the newly restructured competition.
The RTÉ Sport analyst argues that while there are “issues” that need to be addressed, the criticism of Saracens’ style is perhaps over-the-top.
“There is a danger that if the spark isn’t reignited, the French could well just say, ‘Forget about this'"
Admitting “it wasn’t a great game”, the former Ireland international says that Irish rugby fans should remember previous success when casting judgement on the current champions.
“We have got very pure over here,” he told 2fm’s Game On.
“People seem to have forgotten when Munster won the Heineken Cup for the first time , there was a lot of complaints about their style of play in the last seven or eight minutes of the game with their pick and jam to close out the game.”
Since the restructuring of the Heineken Cup, a competition Ulster, Munster and Leinster won on six occasions between them, the Irish provinces have struggled to make the same impact, and the long-term viability of the setup has been called into question.
Lenihan points to TV coverage that has left viewers “frustrated” and the growing finances on offer in the English and French domestic leagues as causes for concern.
“There are issues there, there’s no doubt about that," he said.
“There is a danger that if the spark isn’t reignited and if it becomes just the French and English clubs dominating, the French could well just say, ‘Forget about this, we need to shorten our domestic season, we have more than enough money to keep us going’ and just concentrate on the Top 14.
“We need to press pause at the moment. It was a World Cup year, and with Connacht in it next season with Munster, Ulster and Leinster, we will probably look at it slightly different next year.
“We need to give it another year under the new structure and organisation before making any definitive comment.”
A broader issue is the standing of the international game and the Cork native is hoping that it doesn’t follow the soccer trend whereby international friendlies are met with widespread apathy.
Citing France’s summer tour of Argentina as an example, Lenihan says there are worries that this is already happening.
“Clubs are getting stronger and almost usurping the international game,” he said.
“The French have to do something. The Top 14 final is scheduled for 24 June. By that stage, France will have played two Tests against Argentina.
“There is a suggestion that France are announcing 17 players who will go to Argentina in advance of their first Test and waiting until the play-offs have taken place the weekend before that Test to add another 12 players to the squad.
“That depends then on which clubs win and which clubs lose.
“It’s becoming farcical. They are going to be handing out French caps to players who might ever feature in a French squad again.”