Leinster British & Irish Cup Coach COLIN McENTEE believes that the experiences gained from the ‘step into the unknown’ last year can bear fruit for Leinster this year…

On the quality of rugby on show:

“In my eyes, the British & Irish Cup is a competition with a real future because it provides players with the opportunity to impress in a competitive environment. The quality of opposition on show last year mirrored the professionalism of the clubs in their approach and I suppose the Exeter Chiefs sum up all that is good about the competition. They were riding high in the Championship when we faced them in Sandy Park and they’re now a Premiership side. Their facilities were really professional and to play in front of a few thousand people did some of the younger players who were out that day the world of good. From a development point of view it’s always good to play against different teams with different playing styles and approaches. Some teams are focused on skills and flair, while others are more power based. Rugby in Ireland can get quite insular because the provinces know each other so well, so any exposure can only be a good thing.”

On Leinster’s approach:

“Over the years, aside from a few sporadic interprovincial derbies and the odd ‘A’ games against the likes of Saracens, Bristol and Glasgow, there were a large group of players crying out for games. Since day one we have always taken the British & Irish Cup seriously and it was never a case of throwing in a bunch of young players and seeing how they went. It’s important to have a blend of youth and experience and the scheduling last year – when we played matches during the November and Six Nations windows – meant that a lot of fringe players, or players who were coming back from injury, got valuable game time. We mirrored the Senior team in terms of our nutrition, travel, analysis and preparation and each game was approached in a professional manner. I have to say that the players bought into the competition, which was pleasing from a coaching point of view. Those who weren’t in the first team knew that they had an opportunity to be assessed and to try and make an impression. The All-Ireland League plays an important role in the development of players in our Academy and sub-Academy structures in that it enables players to play regularly. But the B&I Cup is another step up and it crucially bridges the gap between club to Magners League and Heineken Cup rugby. If we continue to set high standards of ourselves as an organisation, that feeds off into the players and we will be approaching this year’s competition in a similar vein.”

On this year’s kick off:

“We’re in a very competitive pool this year against last year’s champions the Cornish Pirates, Worcester Warriors, Currie, Plymouth Albion and Newport. Newport beat us (6-10) in Donnybrook last year and it was a really physical game and an eye opener for us. Any time you travel to Rodney Parade poses a massive challenge and it will be no different for us. They have taken a few scalps there over the years and they’re a club with a big history who are doing well in the Welsh Premiership. We’re working hard in preparation for and we know that we have to bring hunger and intensity to the game.”

On making an impression:

“Lots of the younger players such as Jason Harris-Wright, Ian Madigan, Jack McGrath and Paul Ryan got valuable matches under their belts. There was also a group of players who weren’t involved regularly who had a platform to display their frustrations in a competitive environment and say ‘I’m ready’. We want to kick on this year and become a consistent force in the competition.”

Upcoming Fixtures:

B&I Cup – Sunday, 17th October: Newport v Leinster (Rodney Parade, 2.30pm)
‘A’ Interprovincial – Tuesday, 2nd November: Munster v Leinster (Clonmel RFC, 7pm)
‘A’ Interprovincial – Saturday, 20th November: Leinster v Ulster (Donnybrook, 1pm)
B&I Cup – Friday, 10th December: Leinster v Plymouth Albion (Donnybrook, 6.30pm)