Leaderless Leinster stung and dismantled by Wasps on dark day at the RDS
Leinster’s European campaign could be in ruins before they even make it to Toulon in round three after this dreadful opening day defeat to Wasps.
Leinster 6 Wasps 33
They can’t say they didn’t know what was coming. Thirteen months ago, the English side arrived in Dublin and ran up a 12 point lead before running out of steam, while the sides drew in Coventry. Since then, they’ve added two All Blacks and a Wallaby great.
Leinster, meanwhile, went back to the future by bringing back Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton back and, having lost Kane Douglas, signed veteran New Zealander Hayden Triggs.
It was the Wasps recruits who made the difference. New Zealand internationals Charles Piutau and Frank Halai were excellent, while George Smith was a constant throrne in Leinster’s side.
What will annoy the RDS faithful was the lack of fight shown and the complete absence of leadership on display from a team packed full of Ireland internationals. Losing skipper Nacewa on the morning of the game didn’t help, but they’d known his knee was at him all week and had a back-up plan in place.
Their stand-in captain Jamie Heaslip was completely outplayed by opposite number Nathan Hughes, while they couldn’t get over the gainline without Ben Te’o in the centre. They lost Richardt Strauss, Sean O’Brien and Mike McCarthy to head injuries and all three are unlikely to have enough time to be cleared to face Bath away next Saturday.
Wasps were excellent and will now fancy their chances as they welcome Toulon to the Ricoh Arena next week. The pool remains unbalanced due to the cancellation of Bath’s away trip to the south of France, but it means the English side – who caused so many problems for Leinster in last year’s quarter-final – will be nice and fresh at the Rec next week.
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The loss of Nacewa, couple with the absence of Rob Kearney, Te’o and Luke Fitzgerald severely dented Leinster’s attacking edge and, although Johnny Sexton, Ian Madigan and Noel Reid showed some nice touches in attack, there wasn’t enough blunt force to get over the gainline.
Wasps’ defence was excellent. Led by veteran openside George Smith, they hammered off their line at every opportunity and if they hadn’t been overly keen in the ruck they might have been further in front at half-time.
Scottish out-half Ruaridh Jackson opened the scoring after Mike Ross, who had just received treatment for an early injury, slipped his bind at the scrum.
Sexton, making his first European appearance for his home province since returning from Racing 92, levelled after a period of sustained pressure that saw Madigan find some space on the left wing only to offload to Elliot Daly but his clearance only went as far as Eoin Reddan who spread it right through a gorgeous Reid pass to Zane Kirchner who couldn’t get past Frank Halai.
Referee Mathieu Raynal went back for the penalty for offside and Sexton obliged. He should have put Leinster in front when Hughes handled the ball in the ruck, but he pulled a very kickable penalty wide.
Leinster were in the ascendancy, but couldn’t make their possession and territory count with a try. Carlo Festuccia gave away another needless breakdown penalty to allow Sexton make amends, but the hosts wouldn’t score in the second quarter as the Premiership side came more and more into the game.
Jack McGrath was penalised for collapsing, which allowed Jackson level before a poor lineout tap-down from Devin Toner invited them in, Smith pounced and Christian Wade moved it wide where only Dave Kearney’s excellent tackle denied Halai after good work from Piutau.
Having gotten nothing out of that, the excellent Daly punished a Ross high tackle with a brilliant long-range kick, before an innocuous-looking Joe Simpson box-kick proved disastrous for Dave Kearney who allowed it to bounce three times, slipped and watched on as Wade pounced to score the game’s first try.
Jackson converted to give the visitors a 10 point lead and Leo Cullen was getting more and more problems to solve in the coaching box.
Leinster lost Strauss to a head injury, while Eoin Reddan began making errors at the base of the ruck and another visit to the Wasps ’22 went unpunished as Toner knocked on a poor pass. Another bad delivery from the scrum-half saw Jack McGrath spill the ball under the posts.
Things could have gotten even worse before half-time when Hughes made big gains in midfield and off-loaded to Jones who found Piutau who had Wade on his outside but put too much on his pass as the speedster knocked on.
Having lost O’Brien to a head injury before half-time, Mike McCarthy followed as he tried to impose himself from the kick-off and Piutau surged into Leinster territory and chipped ahead for Halai who was beaten to it by the covering Sexton.
Wasps let a big lead slip at the RDS last season and were determined not to make the same mistake and they rammed home their advantage with a try or real quality eight minutes after the break as Ben Jacob put Halai through a midfield gap and he found Simpson who shrugged off Hayden Triggs’ despairing effort to score under the posts.
Leinster never looked like coming back. Sexton kicked a penalty to the corner dead, while their one meaningful visit to the opposition ’22 ended with Sean Cronin being held up in the tackle.
Their scrum began to crumble, with Daly missing two long-range efforts, but a mix-up after the second attempt led to a handy chance for Jackson under the posts and he extended the lead to 20 points.
Madigan had a late surge through the Wasps defence but that was undone by Jordi Murphy’s knock-on, Garry Ringrose showed some lovely touches but it was all too late.
In the end, it was Wasps who finished on a deserved high as replacement Salosi Tagicakibau was just short of scoring their third try but the ball popped up for Piutau to score a third try. Alex Lozowski converted to compound the home side’s misery.
Leinster trooped off having never landed a blow. Lose next week and they can give up on Europe for another year and on this evidence they might just be doing that already.
Leinster: I Madigan; Z Kirchner, F McFadden, N Reid, D Kearney (G Ringrose 71); J Sexton, E Reddan (L McGrath 49); J McGrath (C Healy 49), R Strauss (S Cronin 26), M Ross (T Furlong 49); D Toner, M McCarthy (H Triggs 41), J Murphy, S O'Brien (J Conan 40), J Heaslip.
Wasps: C Piutau; C Wade (S Tagicakibau 71), E Daly, B Jacobs, F Halai; R Jackson (A Lozowski 73), J Simpson (D Robson 56); M Mullan (capt) (S McIntyre 64), C Festuccia (A Johnson 56), J Cooper-Wooley (P Swainston 64), J Launchbury, B Davies (J Gaskell 67); S Jones, G Smith, N Hughes (G Thompson 73).
Referee: M Raynal (France)