Three-time Champions Cup winner Brian O’Driscoll has backed his former club Leinster to go all the way in this year’s showpiece European competition.
Leinster are favourites for this year’s Champions Cup title, as 16 teams embark on two-legged knock-out ties for the first time, ahead of French duo Racing 92 and Toulouse.
The Irish province have been at the forefront of their domestic league, winning the last four full editions of the United Rugby Championship (URC) in its various formats.
“Leinster, based on what I have seen this season, are hard not to back,” said legendary Ireland outside centre O’Driscoll.
“They are playing a really, really good brand of rugby. They’re scoring from every type of launch, counter, or turnover.
“They’ve turned their defence into an attacking weapon, I’ve just been so, so impressed with them and their strength and depth.”
For O’Driscoll, and Leinster, the Champions Cup always represented the pinnacle of the club game.
“I think [the importance] depends country to country,” added O’Driscoll, who made 186 appearances for the province. “There’s such a huge focus on it in Ireland.
“That’s not to take away from the URC, but it [the Champions Cup] has always been held in much higher regard than the domestic league.
“I think, depending on who the team is in the Premiership, and in the Top14, they’re probably more on an even keel.”
Having been pencilled in for last season but scrapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, two-legged round of 16 fixtures will make their debut in this year’s tournament, starting on Friday night when O’Driscoll’s Leinster travel to domestic rivals Connacht.
“It’s strange that half time in this round is after the first game has finished,” O’Driscoll said.
“What it does do is give you an opportunity to right the wrongs of the previous week, something you often wish you could have more of when you’ve disappointed yourself.
“The dynamic of these games we don’t fully understand yet, but I think it’s very exciting – the prospect of what’s coming.
“I for one am really looking forward to seeing how it unfolds and whether you’ll have turnarounds after the first game or whether it will be those that lead after game one will ultimately power their way through to the quarter-finals.”
Favourites Leinster only qualified in fourth in Pool A after being subject to a controversial Covid-19-releted cancellation.
They were due to play Montpellier but a number of the Leinster squad contracted the virus. The Irish province cobbled a makeshift side together but the competition’s governing body ruled against them and they lost points.
That will not faze Leinster, however, who picked up bonus point wins against Bath – twice – and Montpellier in their other three games.
“If they continue playing the way we’ve seen them play in the pool stages,” added O’Driscoll. “It’ll take a very, very good team to beat them.
“Toulouse can do it, other sides can do it. La Rochelle can do it and Montpellier could squeeze the life out of them.
“There are teams who can beat them on their day but if they play the way they have been, I don’t see anyone beating them on this form.”
BT Sport is the home of European Rugby Champions Cup.The 2021/22 season continues with a weekend full of games, including Leinster v Connacht live on BT Sport 1 at 7.15pm on Friday 8th April. Find out more information on how to watch at BT Sport bt.com/sport