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Brent Pope: Job done but lots still to do

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Leinster's Jordi Murphy applauds his side's supporters after the game

Leinster's Jordi Murphy applauds his side's supporters after the game

Leinster's Jordi Murphy applauds his side's supporters after the game

AS veteran Wasps outhalf Andy Goode watched his last gasp drop goal go agonisingly right and wide on Saturday, Leinster players and their fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Seemingly cruising to a win and home qualification at half-time, Leinster then let the home side claw their way back into the game with two well taken second half tries, to such as extent that as Goode's kick sailed wide Leinster were somewhat relieved to be still in Europe.

This game in many ways summed up Leinster whole season to date, good at times and bad at others.

Both teams had some legitimate grievances over the course of the 80 minutes, Leinster about the yellow card that was issued to big Wasps flanker Ashley Johnston when the powerful Islander upended Leinster winger Dave Kearney from the first kickoff.

Johnson was lucky to escape with just a yellow when a red card could just as easily have been shown, especially as the injured Kearney could take no further part in the game.

The fact that the game was only three seconds old helped Johnson's plea, but referees need to be more consistent, it should not matter when it happens, it was dangerous, end of.

Wasps could then feel a little aggrieved themselves when in the second half they were pulled back for obstruction after their winger Tom Varndell crossed for what seemed a pretty good try, Luke Fitzgerald's theatrics helped the referee, but Wasps really only had themselves to blame as they had already squandered a simple three-man overlap in the lead up to the disallowed try.

In the end a draw was possibly a fair enough result for both sides in literally what was a "game of two halves".

NERVOUS

Considering they were away from home, Leinster actually started this match positively, Wasps looked decidedly nervous and Leinster more or less dominated everywhere on the field for the opening half.

Leinster's scrum was dominant, their backs were making it well across the gainline with every carry and the likes of Leinster flankers Jordi Murphy and Dominic Ryan were cutting the Wasps defence to shreds with ball in hand.

In fact the game was so one-sided in the first half, that the only thing that kept the home side in it was a poor goal kicking display from Leinster's Ian Madigan.

Madigan usually a "dead eye dick" could not kick "snow of a rope" all afternoon and it always just seems to allow Wasps a second bite of the cherry.

Leinster it seemed could just not pull away from their hosts. Leinster's first try was simple in its completion but very effective in its organisation, the Leinster forwards did all the initial battering in the tight channels and then quick hands through the backline saw flying Leinster winger Fergus McFadden over.

Leinster was finding it so easy at that stage that most of us watching the match felt that Wasps looked a second-rate side - what had all the pre-game fuss been about?

Leinster dominated all the clean line breaks, the set-plays, the collision areas and in fact everywhere on the field apart from one period of play that led to a Goode failed penalty attempt just on the stroke of half-time.

Wasps had not threatened Leinsters line at all. Wasps defence close to the line had been solid, it needed to be as Leinster should have come away with more at times but out wide they were leaving holes everywhere, it was relief for their coach Dai Young that somehow Wasps were only two scores adrift at the half-time break.

Leinster started the second half as they had ended the first, in autopilot and cruising, a third try now seemed inevitable after another charge from McFadden, but with Wasps scrambling, the visitors used an illegal block to try to crash over and were penalised.

Even down to 14 men Leinster were still the ones playing all the positive rugby. Then things changed. Wasps started to throw caution to the wind using their big back-row, Johnson and Nathan Hughes in particular to offload in the tackle.

All of a sudden Leinster could not win the ball back, and when they did they kicked badly both out of hand and at goal. Wasps sniffed a chance to get back into the match and took it using their lineout and maul drive to score two well-taken tries, convert them both and be on even terms with just five minutes to go.

Madigan had a chance to win it with time nearly up, but missed again and Wasps came looking for a win that had seemed almost impossible after 60 minutes.

Wasps made good inroads into the Leinster 22, Goode sat deep in the pocket as the Leinster players (one of whom looked a little offside) pressured him, thankfully the ball sailed wide.

Game over, Leinster were through to the knockout stages. For Leinster no one stood out more than open side flanker Jordi Murphy, who was the main line-breaker for the Blues.

Not huge by international standards Murphy seemed to find holes in the Wasps defence every time he had the ball, how Leinster and Irish rugby are now blessed for quality loose forwards. Dominic Ryan and captain Jamie Heaslip also had fine first half games, as did the entire pack, with Luke Fitzgerald, Madigan, Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden dominant in the backs.

HUGE

In fact Fitzgerald is fast becoming Joe Schmidt's first choice No 13 for the start of the Six Nations, and for a player considering retirement just a season ago it is a huge achievement.

In the second half Leinster's defence was again found wanting at times, and they simply could not get enough possession to put the final nail in Wasps half-closed coffin.

Leinster showed they can struggle a bit around the fringes and tight channels as both of Wasps tries were scored from lineout drives.

So all in all Matt O'Connor will be delighted with the manner that his team approached the game in the first half, a kick on from their recent 2015 form, but will be a little disappointed at the number of missed or wayward kicks, and an inability to regain possession to kill the game.

With even more key players to come back in the coming weeks Leinster can still feel confident that they still have plenty of room to improve before their Europe quest is over.

Job done . . . just and a home quarter-final to boost their spirits.


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