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Ireland’s National Player Management Programme is much admired outside the country, or certainly appears to be given how often it gets an airing from opposing teams and unions, and it’s reasonable to assume that the principal beneficiaries, the players in question, would also be keen advocates of a system that strictly regulates their game time.
Not everyone is enamoured. Coaches must occasionally crave greater flexibility, especially when ravaged by injuries, albeit fully conversant with how the arrangement works from day one. Matches involving the Irish provinces in the Guinness Pro14 around the Christmas and New Year period, contested by teams that are shorn of marquee names, exercise the goodwill of some supporters.
The majority, as was reflected in the attendances over the three weekends of recent interprovincial derbies, tolerate the absence and instead enjoy watching burgeoning talent. Conversely the French Top 14 bears the reputation of a league that exacts a huge physical toll on players who are expected to play on a more regular basis for their clubs.
On Saturday the two leagues collide in Heineken Champions Cup round five fixtures as all four Irish provinces are pitted against French opposition.
Coincidentally the eight clubs in question played three matches in their respective domestic leagues over the festive period over between 13 and 15 days, and at face value there wasn’t much to chose between them in terms of the way the squads were rotated; the obvious exception and the tie with the greatest disparity in that regard is Leinster’s game against Lyon in the RDS on Sunday (1pm).
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen used 44 players over the course an unbeaten run through interprovincial clashes with Connacht, Munster and Ulster. In contrast his Lyon counterpart Pierre Mignoni employed just 30 players in a defeat away to Castres (29-12) and wins at home to Bayonne (52-9) and away to Agen (13-12) last time out.
Five Lyon players, wing Josua Tuisova, centre Charlie Ngatai, prop Demba Bamba, and flankers, Patrick Sobela and Dylan Cretin, started all three of those matches, while a further eight were in the run-on team in two games. The chance of the French side, currently eight points clear in second place in the Top 14, coming fully load
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