'We won't drop off without Six Nations stars'
Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30
As Tom Denton approaches the 50 cap milestone for Leinster, he finds himself like so many of his younger colleagues last weekend, chasing a first start in Europe for Leinster.
There may be nothing at stake for the team this weekend in terms of further progress in the Champions Cup but like the six first-time starters that went before him last weekend against Bath, it's a game with huge personal significance for Denton.
"I'm delighted to be starting and it's something that I've been working hard towards for a few years now," he says.
"I got a taste for it last season and have been involved in three of the European games already this season so the chance to run out with the lads at the Ricoh is one that I'm looking forward to hugely."
Running out at the Ricoh with 14 of his team-mates is one thing, having a very familiar face on the other side of the tunnel will be quite another.
Former Leinster out-half Jimmy Gopperth missed the Round 1 game in the RDS due to suspension but chances are the New Zealander will start tomorrow.
"It will be great to see Jimmy - he had a great time when he was here and was a very popular member of the squad. He guided us to that Pro12 title two season ago and we had some great moments on the pitch together.
"So it will be good to go up against him and I have no doubt that the lads will be wanting to get stuck in to him for the 80 minutes. But he will too! That's as it should be. We can have a proper catch-up afterwards."
Eoin Reddan, who played inside Gopperth for so much of his two years at Leinster, revealed an interesting feature to Gopperth's play during the week.
Gopperth is known to engage with opposition nines and tens and have the craic!
Reddan has already promised the stone wall treatment. What about Denton?
"Yeah Jimmy was known to do that alright!" he says. "Having played with us he will know how to get under our skin but we have to try as Eoin said to stonewall him and leave the friendships to one side - but yeah he is funny like that and he tries to engage with the opposition and have craic with them throughout the game, so it will be up to us to block all that out."
Without wishing to go over old and painful ground, Wasps inflicted a 33-6 defeat at the RDS last autumn, with Ruaridh Jackson kicking 13 points. Elliot Daly knocked over a monster penalty, while Alex Lozowski also got in on the act for good measure.
With Gopperth likely to start at ten and having shown good form since joining Wasps during the summer - he has scored one try and 104 points in 11 appearances this season - keeping the men in black and amber away from the kicking tee will be crucial for Leinster.
"We've been working on our discipline the last few weeks and backing our defence and staying true to our systems," says Denton.
"Discipline in defence is so important because you can have all the systems in the world, but as the saying goes you can't defend your posts. So if we cough up cheap opportunities Jimmy will punish us. So discipline will be a huge factor this weekend with two quality kickers playing for both teams."
As the curtain comes down on Europe for Leinster, how does the 6ft 6in lock look back on the season so far?
"It was obviously a tricky start losing the games in Round 1 and Round 2 but I think the form that we have been building in the Pro12 has now carried across into the Champions Cup and we saw that against Bath," he says.
"We might not have had much to play for but they did, so I think it was a really good test for us and for the younger lads to see how well we could go; could we bring that Pro12 form into Europe? I think we did that."
At 27 he isn't quite a veteran but isn't new fish either. Has he been caught up in the wave of enthusiasm that has greeted the new breed of Leinster players?
"Absolutely. You feed off their enthusiasm and it makes you realise that you need to up your own game," he says.
"In the second-row you have Ross Molony and it's great to see him go well last weekend and it ups the stakes for the rest of us competing for those second-row slots.
"They all bring a huge desire to training every day and that is infectious. They've been great and they're all good lads too."
After Wasps attention will turn to the Guinness Pro12 and for some, the Six Nations. It's during periods like these that seasons are maybe not won, but they can certainly be lost. A point that hasn't been forgotten in Leinster HQ.
"We've learned our lessons from the start of the season and probably from last season as well. Our defence has played a huge part in that and is something that we have really been working on," says Denton.
"The key thing over the next few weeks coming into the Six Nations period is that we are able to continue that fight and that consistency when we will be missing players."
What do they need to do to ensure that they don't slip up like last year when they won only one game from the four played during the Six Nations?
"It's not one thing but last year's Six Nations results definitely cost us," he says. "For me it's more about keeping a consistent level of performance going and that is easier said that done, but I think we have shown in the last few months that we are getting to a level of consistency now that will hopefully sustain us into the Dragons game next week and then beyond that as well.
"The key thing over the next few weeks is making sure that there isn't a drop off, no peaks and troughs. If we miss lads with Ireland then the lads here have to step up and there can't be that drop.
"We know what's on the line now, we know the impact a poor domestic season can have on your European seeding, so I'd like to think that we have learned and that we will be better for it."