The Rainbow Cup got off to a false start this year but the introduction of the South African teams can't come soon enough for Leinster, according to Stuart Lancaster.

The Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions were all due to take on the Guinness Pro14 teams in the second part of the inaugural tournament but uncertainty over travel restrictions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to that plan.

Instead, the four southern hemisphere teams will play amongst themselves and are due to join the Guinness Pro16 from the start of next season.

Over the last three seasons, at the knock-out stages of European competition, Leinster have struggled to deal with the power of Saracens (2019 and 2020) and, on Sunday, La Rochelle.

That’s despite being head and shoulders above their nearest domestic rivals as they coasted to their fourth domestic title in a row last month and senior coach Lancaster admits that coming up against a heavier set could only benefit the team in the long run.

"Yeah, 100%. It’s exactly what we need," Lancaster, whose side face Connacht on Saturday, said.

"The trick for us at Leinster is to have those games when the internationals are available.

"One of the challenges we have here is [the representative call-ups].

"This coming season, for example, I’m hopeful there’ll be some Leinster players on the Lions tour. There’ll [possibly] be Ireland [fixtures].

"The season will start in late September, October time, before you know it there will be November internationals, a lot of the Leinster players will do that.

"Then Christmas, then Six Nations and before you know it you are into the knockout stages of Europe, if you’ve got that far.

"For us as a group, we need that different challenge, that heavier team to play against and to learn the lessons of the Saracens or La Rochelle, in this instance."

Despite the manner of the last three European losses, Lancaster is confident that the future is bright and that there is no need to change much in the formula that has been successful for the four-time Champions Cup winners, who named 21 homegrown players in the 23-man match-day panel last Sunday.


"We’ve an unbelievable squad here," he said while dismissing the need to buy in bulk from the southern hemisphere as La Rochelle have done.

"If we’d one or two of the [injured] lads that were on the sideline that makes a difference as well.

"Johnny Sexton, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, Dan Leavy Jamison Gibson-Park, Rhys Ruddock going off injured, good players.

"I’m still fundamentally confident in the direction that Leinster are going.

"When I look at the age-profile of the team. There are some lads coming to the end but there are an awful lot of lads in their mid-20s who are going to get better.

"For a team like Leinster, the model is the model, we’re very much based on a homegrown squad. We have one or two additions at the most, but I believe for long-term success, that’s the right model."

Meanwhile, Ruddock, who injured his calf in the first half against La Rochelle, will be unavailable for four to six weeks.

Harry Byrne was replaced early in the Rainbow Cup game against Munster with a hamstring injury and will be out for three to four weeks.

Doris (calf) and Gibson-Park (hamstring) will be assessed this week, while Sexton (concussion), Connors (knee), Jack Dunne (ankle), Adam Byrne (quad), Leavy (knee), Conor O'Brien (knee) and Max Deegan (knee) remain unavailable.