O'Sullivan, the new Ireland coach, rates Heineken Cup matches as comfortably the best yardstick available to establishing the international credentials of the leading Irish players.
"We no longer have an Irish trial so we watch - and select our squad - on the basis of performances in Heineken Cup matches," he said.And with Toulouse delaying the kick-off to their Round 6 clash with Leinster on 12 January to allow Munster supporters to watch their team in action against Castres Olympique and then make the short journey to Stade des Sept Deniers for the evening match - and vice versa - O'Sullivan will be one of those taking the opportunity to see both key fixtures."I will be there," he said. "We have consistently used our Heineken Cup matches as very good markers to the form of players. The cut-and-thrust of the matches is as close as we can get to international rugby and it is serving us very well.
With two rounds to go Leinster are already the first quarter-final qualifiers with the other two leading Irish provinces, Munster and Ulster, well placed to join them in the last eight.
"Munster have an outstanding record in Europe, built on a huge esprit de corps and a belief they can win any game when it comes down to the wire. Thomond Park is probably the one ground all other teams hate travelling to, Munster have made it into a fortress and that is a major factor in their success. Leinster had gone very close to doing something special on a couple of occasions before winning the Celtic League final earlier this month. They have strengthened their squad, in particular with Nathan Spooner and Keith Gleeson, and they have built up that wonderful winning habit, which they took to 14 straight matches in beating Munster 24-20 at Lansdowne Road. As for Ulster, they, like Munster and Leinster, have phenomenal support and anyone who has played in front of a packed house at Ravenhill will tell you what an intimidating place it can be. In winning the tournament in 1999 they did a great job for Irish rugby."