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Irish sides are putting Leicester in the shade, says Murphy

 

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Impressed: Geordan Murphy feels the Irish provincial set-up is second to none

Impressed: Geordan Murphy feels the Irish provincial set-up is second to none

Impressed: Geordan Murphy feels the Irish provincial set-up is second to none

Leicester boss Geordan Murphy has described Irish rugby's provincial set-up as "brilliant".

Holders Leinster, Munster and Ulster - Leicester's opponents in Belfast tonight - are, along with the Tigers, current or past European champions.

Leinster are seeking a record fifth European title this season, with such a pedigree underlining how big a challenge Leicester and other clubs face.

"The provincial set-up in Ireland, it's brilliant," Leicester interim head coach and former Ireland international Murphy said.

"I look at the quality of talent of guys coming through and in the Irish academies, and it's brilliant.

"You look at the back-row, where you get an injury to Sean O'Brien and you get Dan Leavy coming through. They seem to have a bit of a conveyor belt now.

"They have a huge pick of really talented players. The schools guys are effectively in professional environments from the age of 13 or 14, such is the quality of schools rugby in Ireland, and it's only growing."

With French challengers Racing 92 - Champions Cup runners-up last term - and 2018 semi-finalists Scarlets also in their group, Murphy knows the importance of Leicester making a strong start.

The 40-year-old took charge after head coach Matt O'Connor was sacked just one game into the new Gallagher Premiership season, with Leicester having won three of their five matches under Murphy's direction.

"Obviously, it's important that we get out of the blocks early," he added.

"It's a massive competition, and we are playing against some really strong sides - Ulster and Scarlets - in weeks one and two.

"Just the nature of where we are and the nature of what's happened at the start of the season, we have been under the pump a little bit, so we have got to go out and focus on our game."

Leicester captain Tom Youngs, meanwhile, is relishing getting to grips with another European campaign.

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"You block the Premiership games up, and then you are into two games in Europe," Youngs said. "They are separate competitions and obviously the intensity rises.

"You know you are playing against different teams you haven't played against, you haven't really been watching them too much because you have been concentrating on the Premiership, so it's a quite nice fresh approach to the week.

"You look at Ulster stuff, look at their team and how they're playing and you get a different look on things a little bit.

"I really enjoy it. I think it does freshen up the week a little bit, it does flick the mindset up a little bit from the Premiership week in and week out and into Europe.

"We've got a massive challenge with Ulster straight away, away from home as well, and their fans will be right on top of us. As a player, you want to be tested and you want to be in some really tough environments.

"That's when you can sometimes see the best in your team and sometimes you can see the worst in your team, if you don't perform particularly well."

Elsewhere this weekend, Saracens are in Glasgow tomorrow (3.15pm kick-off) in a pool that also contains Challenge Cup winners Cardiff and dark horses Lyon.

The Londoners had won the tournament in both 2016 and 2017, but saw their grip on the crown finally loosened by Leinster, who beat them in the quarter-finals.

Director of Rugby Mark McCall believes the experience can act as an added motivation this time around.

Reflecting on Saracens' run to the last eight last season, the former Ulster captain said: "It just felt that we didn't put our best foot forward, but that's an easy thing to say after a match like that.

"We were up against it the whole competition last year, having got off to a decent start.

"Losing your home game in game three really taught us the important lesson that there's no margin for error in the competition.

"Every game matters, every point matters. We were dissatisfied with how we played throughout the competition last year.

"None of our players enjoyed watching the final last year or even the semi-finals for that matter, but that counts for nothing in a way."

The 50-year-old believes the experience gained in previous seasons could be vital to his team's ambitions in this campaign, with seasoned players like Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Alex Goode eager for more European success.

"I suppose the players have had experience in finals, semi-finals and in big games, so they want those experiences again," added McCall.

"I think that definitely helps. Not being there last year - hopefully that will add to their hunger as well."

Ulster

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Heineken Champions Cup

Kingspan Stadium, Tonight, 5.30pm


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