Monday 18 December 2017

Carbery class helps Blues to take sting out of Wasps

Leinster 32 Wasps 17

Joey Carbery works his magic during yesterday’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash. Photo: Sportsfile
Joey Carbery works his magic during yesterday’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Leinster are back in the Champions Cup semi-final. And while the scoreline might suggest it was a handy day out, it was not quite that. Rather, it was a curious mix: Leinster looked a class apart in the first half, while Wasps looked a bit like the Keystone Cops. When in the last half hour the home side had lost a bit of their control, and their guests had given up on the world record chase for the number of unforced errors in a single afternoon, we had a different game.

At its end the win went to the side who deserved it. When their set-piece is good - the lineout wobbled yesterday - and they get tempo into their game then Leinster look capable of doing damage to anyone. It helps than when they are in this mood they are also very good to watch.

Top of that category is Joey Carbery. A racing certainty for the man of the match award after he had left a few defenders for dust, he was a bit battered by the end of it - a late dunt from replacement Ashley Johnson didn't help.

"He's 21 and it's all come very quickly for him," Leo Cullen said afterwards. "He stays grounded and hopefully he'll have a big part to play. Having him as a second receiver certainly takes some of the pressure off Jonathan Sexton."

Moreover, it keeps the pressure on the opposition, for defending against Carbery on the gain-line is a challenging business. Sexton too was in the wars, but at least stayed on the field to run the show until the end. There was one period in the second half where he was down in back-play, with a shoulder injury that has been following him around a while, and significantly Wasps could take no advantage.

It summed up Dai Young's side here. Their capacity to do damage from distance was undiminished, as illustrated by Christian Wade's try that got them going in the last half hour, but they dug their own grave and hopped into it. There were any number of mistakes they wouldn't make on another day. And it's safe to say that in the unlikely event of Springbok Willie Le Roux playing until he has a bus pass he will never again lose the ball going over the line when unchallenged.

Seemingly, he apologised to his teammates at half-time, by which stage they trailed 22-3. The Le Roux blunder had occurred on 24 minutes, when they were trailing 8-0 - to get back to 8-7 having been second best all over the field would have been good going. So too perhaps would a half-time deficit of 15-3, given the way Leinster were playing, with offloads (15 by the finish) allowing them keep the Wasps defence stretched.

But while mauling a lineout, presumably with a view to kicking the ball out when the clock hit 40, they allowed Devin Toner dislodge the ball whereupon Dan Leavy pounced and popped in one perfect move. A few pairs of quick hands later and Robbie Henshaw, as direct as ever, was touching down by the posts.

It was the second time they had cocked up at the back of a maul. Stacked on top of dodgy clearance kicks and Le Roux's blunder, it fed into everything Leinster were doing so well: keeping the ball alive, and keeping the error count down. On all vital statistics, from possession to territory to penalty count, Leinster were doing what they had planned to do.

The first-half tries for the ageless Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan - who was really good with ball in hand - and Henshaw, all had accuracy and quick thought in common. So if Leinster scored first after the break you feared Wasps might lose the plot altogether.

Sure enough, Sexton stuck over another three points, on 49 minutes, when Kearnan Myler had managed to get himself offside when it seemed easier to stay legal. He was replaced moments later.

It took a bit longer though to remove Danny Cipriani from a contest where everything he touched turned to mush. And to get Johnson into the game - he came on in the back-row and quickly threw an unlikely try-scoring pass for Wade. Getting Jimmy Gopperth to 10 should have happened sooner. He scored a marvellous individual try on the hour which suddenly, at 25-17, put a fair bit of heat on Leinster.

The home side were looking tired, and lacking the sort of punch off the bench you need if you have designs on going all the way. As it happened, though, it was Fergus McFadden, whose season is only getting up and running. Speeding towards his 31st birthday, in June, McFadden may not fit the prototype of your impact sub but his aggression and commitment were invaluable in this context.

And he was the right man to have on the end of a series of attacks, around the corner, in the Wasps 22 with six minutes left, and Leinster desperate to put the issue to bed.

When Sexton popped over the conversion, it left Wasps with too much to do, and full of regret that, as their coach said afterwards, they had let the occasion get to them.

Regardless of who they are playing in France in the semi-final, Leinster will go there believing that they belong.

Leinster: J Carbery (Z Kirchner 79); A Byrne (F McFadden 22) G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); J McGrath (C Healy 52), R Strauss (J Tracy 55), T Furlong (M Bent 66), D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 59), D Leavy (J van der Flier 16-22, blood), J Conan, S O'Brien (J van der Flier 67).

Wasps: K Beale; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, W le Roux; D Cipriani (A Leiua 55), D Robson (J Simpson 50); M Mullan (S McIntyre 58), T Taylor J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 50; J Cooper-Woolley 77), J Launchbury (capt), K Myall (M Symons 50), J Haskell, N Hughes (A Rieder 77), T Young (A Johnson 50).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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