Leinster and Ireland enter this season with the same big target on their backs.

The greatest season in the history of Irish rugby culminated in Leinster doing the double and Ireland completing just a third Grand Slam, followed by a first series win in the southern hemisphere, albeit in Australia.

As Saracens and England know from last season, there is a world of difference between the hunter and the hunted. 

Leo Cullen and cannot afford to stand still or they will be overtaken.

The notion of going back-to-back is possible, but far from probable for either Leinster or Ireland.

“This is the question about Irish rugby: is it repeatable?” said former Ireland wing Shane Horgan at the launch of Virgin Television. 

“You’ve got to think it’s not repeatable and whether that really affects things going into a World Cup.

“I think there’s going to be a few bumps along the road.”

First up, Leinster will get their PRO14 campaign underway at Cardiff Blues this Friday evening (KO 7.35).

They will do so without the bulk of their first team,  which will be held back for the first four rounds.

“The expectation will be, among those players, that they will want to get into the knock-out stages of both competitions and then re-assess. That‘ s something that’s really achievable and something they should do.”

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Horgan is a realist to the bone and never one to get caught up in the maelstrom of the moment. To win the titles is hard, to retain them harder still.  

The essential requirement is that Leinster make the play-offs of both the Champions Cup and the PRO14 League.

“I don’t think it’s a terrible year if you get to the semi-finals of two competitions and perform well, and possibly get beaten on the day by a better side, whether in Europe or in the PRO14.”

“What isn’t a great year for Leinster is that if they qualify for both semi-finals and then don’t deliver a performance in one of those two games.

“That’s not really good because the bar is now so high. That, I think, is being fair to what Leinster can deliver,” he added.

“Not that they have to win two Cups, but they should qualify for two knock-out stages and then deliver performances in them. And after that, let’s see.”

As regards Ireland, Horgan is reluctant to place too much expectation on them again. For the next 14 months is all about Japan rather than November or the Six Nations.

Schmidt’s greatest concerns will centre around getting his main men to the Land of The Rising Sun.         

“I just don’t know if it’s possible that they’re going to go through unbeaten to the World Cup, or whether that would be a particularly healthy thing to do.

“But if you’re looking at the situation now, at the start of the season, going into the Six Nations next year, we have our two most difficult games, historically, here.

“If you say any one of the teams is going to win a Grand Slam right now, not knowing what goes on in the autumn, I’d say Ireland are the best positioned to do that.”

“But that then means Ireland winning Grand Slams back-to-back, which seems kind of ridiculous given our history.”

Schmidt has made a habit of turning the ridiculous into reality.

Online Editors