Monday 19 February 2018

Joey Carbery shines as Leinster book place in last four at the expense of error-strewn Wasps

Leinster 32 Wasps 17

Fergus McFadden of Leinster, left, celebrates with team-mate Joey Carbery after scoring his side's fourth try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final match between Leinster and Wasps at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden of Leinster, left, celebrates with team-mate Joey Carbery after scoring his side's fourth try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final match between Leinster and Wasps at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leinster are back where they feel they belong in the semi-final of the Champions Cup but they did so the hard way after allowing Wasps back into the game with a nervy second half showing.

The home side had obliterated Wasps in the opening 40 minutes and led 22-3 at the break but they took their eye off the ball until Fergus McFadden's try six minutes from time ensured their place in the last four.

Leinster now await the result of tomorrow's clash between Clermont Auvergne and Toulon but wither way, they are set for a trip to France.

68 points was the points difference when Leinster were on the end of two drubbings from the same opposition but today in front of 50,266 at the Aviva, they exacted revenge that sent out a real statement of their intent.

First half tries from Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw had Leo Cullen's side well in control but Wasps hit back through brilliant scores from Christian Wade and former Blues out-half Jimmy Gopperth.

The end result might have been different had Willie Le Roux not made an unforgivable first half error that really cost his team.

With the line at his mercy, the Springbok inexplicably lost control of the ball when he went for a ridiculous and needless swan dive and when Leinster won a penalty at the resulting scrum, it summed up Wasps struggles.

Cullen had shown faith in youth and in Joey Carbery, Leinster had the best player on the pitch who thrived at full-back.

All of the pre-game talk was dominated by how Leinster would survive without two of their generals but Conan's quite brilliant try was a snap shot of what the future holds for the province.

Conan who replaced Jamie Heaslip in the starting XV had just sent Danny Cipriani hurling through the air before he got on the end of another scintillating piece of Carbery (Rob Kearney's replacement) magic.

They say the good players have more time on the ball than others and Carbery typified that more than anyone else on the pitch.

Less than a year ago, the 21-year played at the same venue in the AIL final for Clontarf and his performance that afternoon left no one with any doubt that he would soon be a regular at the Aviva.

Carbery has of course been back since, both with Leinster and Ireland and today he gave the latest reminder of his absolute class.

Leo Cullen has been regularly asked in recent weeks if he feels that Carbery's future lies at full-back and as much as he is reluctant to tie him down to just one position, he adds another dynamic to Leinster's attack in the back field.

Johnny Sexton punished Wasps' early indiscipline when he fired over a fifth minute penalty and they might have added a try shortly after but Henshaw was hauled down just short of the line after Garry Ringrose had set him free.

The warning signs were there for Wasps but they didn't heed them and Leinster's pressure eventually told after 14 minutes.

Dan Leavy had made the initial break before the ball was spun wide for Carbery whose perfectly weighted pass put Nacewa over in the corner for his tenth try of the season and his seventh in this season's Champions Cup. Not bad for a 34-year old, eh?

Nigel Owens ignored a potential high tackle by Wade on Nacewa but not to worry as the Welsh referee correctly ruled out Le Roux's try shortly after.

It was a moment of madness from a vastly experienced campaigner and one that really should never have happened.

Carbery continued to toy with Wasps, one majestic dummy on Cipriani had the crowd cheering with glee but they had an even bigger reason to shout six minutes before the break when their mercurial full-back again unlocked the English side's defence.

This time Carbery fielded the high ball in the back field linking with McFadden who had come on for the injured Adam Byrne. McFadden passed the ball back to Carbery and his sumptuous offload found Conan who ran clear to score.

Sexton's conversion pushed his side into a 15-3 lead but Leinster weren't finished the first half demolition just yet.

Leavy was quickest to react to the loose ball on the ground and when Sean O'Brien, who looked back to his barnstorming best,  fed Sexton, the out-half shovelled it on to Henshaw who ran in the third try.

Sexton again added the extras for a 22-3 half time lead that was barely believable.

The Ireland out-half was on target with a penalty shortly after the restart but a moment of brilliance from Wade gave his side hope of mounting what had seemed like an unlikely comeback.

Ashley Johnson had just come off the bench and his wide pass left the speedster Wade  one-on-one with O'Brien and there was always only going to be one winner in that foot race.

Wade showed brilliant skill to kick the ball down the line and as soon as he turned on the after burners, it was all about the finish and unlike Le Roux in the first half, the winger made no mistake.

Gopperth bisected the posts with the touchline conversion to cut the deficit to 15 points (25-10) as Leinster wobbled.

The home side continued to look shaky and were punished again seven minutes later and this time it was one of their former players who came back to haunt them.

Gopperth had switched to out-half after the ineffective Cipriani was hauled off, and he spotted a gap in the defence before some really poor defending allowed him to stretch over the whitewash and score another brilliant individual try. The Kiwi converted his own try and suddenly the nerves around the Aviva were palpable.

Leinster needed to steady the ship and Ringrose's searing break brought them some much-needed relief but it only lasted briefly as Michael Bent knocked on before being pinged at the resulting scrum.

But the home side recomposed themselves and when McFadden powered his way over from close range with six minutes left on the clock, the Aviva breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Sexton's extras put the gloss on the scoreline that didn't reflect the nervy times that Leinster endured in the second half but having come through it unscathed, they are deservedly back in the big time.

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 63); J McGrath (C Healy 51), R Strauss (J Tracy 55), T Furlong (M Bent 65); D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 59); D Leavy (J van der Flier 16-22), S O'Brien (J van der Flier 67), J Conan.

Wasps - K Beale; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, W Le Roux; D Cipriani (A Leiua 55), D Robson (J Simpson 49); M Mullan (S MacIntyre 57), T Taylor, J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 49, HIA 76); J Launchbury (capt), K Myall (M Symons 49); J Haskell, T Young (A Johnson 49), N Hughes (A Rider 76).

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

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