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Leinster to have work cut out to avoid Wasps' fury

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Wasps Back Row James Haskell poses for a portrait during a Wasps media session on January 20, 2015 in Acton, England

Wasps Back Row James Haskell poses for a portrait during a Wasps media session on January 20, 2015 in Acton, England

James Haskell, pictured, is ready to do battle with Italy captain Sergio Parisse

James Haskell, pictured, is ready to do battle with Italy captain Sergio Parisse

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Wasps Back Row James Haskell poses for a portrait during a Wasps media session on January 20, 2015 in Acton, England

Leinster would do well to be wary. Wasps are on a mission to revive not just memories, but experiences of a time gone by.

It wasn't all that long ago, 11 years in fact, when Wales scrum-half Rob Howley refused to give up on a lost cause in embarrassing Clement Poitrenaud.

The Toulouse full-back waited and waited for the ball to either bounce into touch or trickle into the dead ball area as the game clock was about to turn red in the 2004 Heineken Cup final.

CALM

The typically calm, laissez-faire attitude of Poitrenaud, a career trait, worked against him as Howley pounced to make referee Alain Rolland turn to Alan Lewis, the television match official in the booth upstairs, to confirm a try that should never have been.

This earned Wasps the first of two Heineken Cups in four seasons and, by the time of their 2007 final eclipse of Leicester Tigers, the handle as one of Europe's powerhouses.

Poitrenaud's 'howler' was the outstanding, unremovable moment from the 2004 final, outshining even the incredible output from Shaun Edwards' suffocating defence.

Eleven years later, Wasps have shed their London prefix and found a new home in Coventry's Ricoh Arena as they embark on another great adventure, the one destined to define their longevity.

This season has been all about change for them, finding a new home, building a bigger fan base and, most importantly, turning it around on the field of play where Director of Rugby, Dai Young, has been a guiding hand.

No one could have forecast with any degree of confidence how they would take defeat in the first two rounds of Pool Two to Leinster and Harlequins and turn the corner into three straight victories.

It was a 2004 dedication to defence that thwarted Harlequins in round five at The Stoop to set up a duel against Leinster at lunchtime this Saturday.

"It has given us an opportunity to finish the job. It's easier said than done because it's a hell of a team we're playing against.

"It's certainly a real meaningful game now. I think everyone realises, in tight games, that 16th man support behind us is exciting."

Where Warren Gatland had the expertise of Edwards to drive his defence in 2004 and 2007, Young has Brad Davis, the former rugby league assistant coach for Castleford Tigers and skills and defence leader for Bath.

"You can see from the 200 tackles we made, we were working for each other.

"The intensity was really good and we got the win," said their hooker Ed Shervington. "Although we put a lot of tackles in, we weren't under a lot of stress because our system is so good from his coaching," he remarked.

As it stands, Wasps are one more win away from making the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.

"It's knockout rugby. It's the best club competition in the world," added Shervington the former Osprey.

"You just don't want to be part of it and get dropped out of it at the Pool. You want to make history."

There is a storm stirring up in Coventry as Wasps aim to sell close to 20,000 tickets to provide instant hostility for Leinster there around lunchtime on Saturday.

FAVOUR

"It's in our favour. We played them out there. We came pretty close, but it's all to play for. It's in our hands. We just need to get the win and get into the quarter-finals. We just do what we do. We're not going to change anything. Our defence is solid. We've got some mental wingers who can finish anything, from anywhere.

"It's a mindset really when you've got (Christian) Wadey and (Andy) Goodey, when he's on fire like he has been, we've just got to get our one percents going well, clearing out, getting the set-piece right and the ball going to hand, we can beat anybody on our day.

"Who says we can't go forward in this competition?"

Wasps have had back-rower James Haskell, Italy back Andrea Masi and Wales lock Bradley Davies make their Six Nations squads.

The outstanding impact of Haskell against Harlequins may just have impressed England coach Stuart Lancaster.

Club captain Haskell was not tempted to look past this Saturday as Wasps strain to do to Leinster what they did to 'Quins in closing down space, tackling non-stop and releasing their danger men, like Christian Wade, Tom Varndell and Elliot Daly.

"I haven't thought too much about England and I won't do this week," said Haskell.

"Your club form is ultimately what earns you selection and we have a massive game against Leinster that I am fully focused on.

"It's very flattering to be involved and I'm looking forward to joining up with the squad.

"But, this weekend's game against Leinster will be a huge, huge game for us".

Of course, the Wasps breakaway three of Haskell, Ashley Johnson and Nathan Hughes is a potent force.

It is one that will have to be handled with extreme care by Leinster's opposing back row with captain Jamie Heaslip there to guide the less-experienced.

There could be a temptation there for coach Matt O'Connor to recall the wily and intensely focussed Shane Jennings.

This is not likely to happen as the 33-year-old won't have played for four weeks with a hamstring injury.

It would seem the time for transition has passed off peacefully enough with Leinster finding form of late.

Jack Conan has burst onto the scene, Jordi Murphy is fulfilling his multi-purpose role and Dominic Ryan is back making a real impact.

It will take all four and more to limit the influence of the Wasps back row,.

The athleticism of Kane Douglas could be a handy tool as a foil to the more fundamental play of Devin Toner in the second row.

Or, will O'Connor look to the former Wasps forward Mike McCarthy to show his former club he is much-changed from his time there in 2002.

Blues' record on road v Wasps

Heineken CUP QUARTER-FINAL, March 31 2007, Adams Park

Wasps 35 LEINSTER 13

Jamie Heaslip started at number eight and James Haskell was sprung from the bench in a try-scoring cameo as Wasps turned a three-point half-time lead into a wipeout.

The English club had current Leinster stalwart Eoin Reddan at scrum-half from where he supplied the bullets for the influential Alex King to fire Wasps through to the semi-final in the same season they went on to win their second European Cup.

Heineken CUP POOL GAME, Jan 17 2009, Twickenham

Wasps 19 LEINSTER 12

The 'ladyboys' took an invaluable losing bonus-point away from the home of English rugby in what would be the season in which everything changed for them.

Leinster's 12 points all came from the boot of centre Felipe Contepomi in a side that included Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip.

Challenge CUP QUARTER-FINAL, April 5 2013, Adams Park

Wasps 28 LEINSTER 48

This was the night Leinster showed that they were humble enough to tumble out of the Heineken and take the Consolation Cup seriously.

While Christian Wade and Tom Varndell poached a pair of tries each, Leinster had too much all-round danger to post five tries by five different players, including Ian Madigan and Mike Ross.


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