Sunday 15 December 2019

Sexton a doubt for Six Nations as Leinster sink to new low

Wasps 51 Leinster 10

James Gaskell, right, and Brendan Macken, Wasps, celebrate their victory Photo:Sportsfile
James Gaskell, right, and Brendan Macken, Wasps, celebrate their victory Photo:Sportsfile
Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster, is tackled by Jimmy Gopperth, Wasps Photo:Sportsfile
Cathal Marsh, Leinster, is tackled by George Smith, left, and Joe Launchbury, Wasps Photo:Sporsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen Photo:Sportsfile

Rory Keane

Leinster's Champions Cup campaign ended as it started with a thumping defeat at the hands of Wasps, but Jonathan Sexton's head injury will be the greatest concern for Ireland ahead of the Six Nations.

The Leinster No 10, who was captaining the province for the first time on his 100th start, left the field with a head injury in the ninth minute.

Following a Head Injury Assessment, Sexton did not return to the fray casting a major doubt on his participation for Ireland's championship opener against Wales on February 7.

For Leinster, it was just pride at stake yesterday. That disastrous outing against Wasps at the RDS in round one, followed by defeats against Bath and Toulon (twice) meant Leo Cullen's side were out of the Champions Cup running before Christmas.

These have been worrying times for the three-time champions and Irish rugby across the board; Leinster's displays in recent weeks signalled new-found optimism, but yesterday's 50-point hammering was a major setback.

Cullen's decision to give six youngsters their first European starts last weekend against Bath was a masterstroke. The Leinster boss, however, resisted the temptation to launch his greenhorns back into the fray in Coventry, with only Peter Dooley and Ross Molony retrained in the match-day squad out of that precocious group.

Cullen was forced to hand a seventh player his tournament debut in the space of a fortnight when Sexton left the action early on, with young out-half Cathal Marsh thrown into the action.

Leinster had started like a train before collapsing. Zane Kirchner glided over for a try of the highest quality to stun Wasps in the third minute. Luke Fitzgerald sparked that attack when he burst onto Noel Reid's intelligent grubber kick before offloading to the onrushing Dave Kearney, who looked sharp throughout the first half.

Devin Toner and Dominic Ryan carried with relish from the ensuing rucks quick hand from Sexton, Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney sent Kirchner gliding over a superb early try.

Leinster then lost their playmaker-in-chief, and their former fly-half Jimmy Gopperth came back to haunt them soon after. After Wasps had sucked in the Leinster defence, using the likes of James Haskell and Joe Launchbury, Gopperth scorched past Rhys Ruddock for the home side's opening try.

Launchbury was soon galloping over for Wasps' second and it began to feel like this could be a long day out in Coventry for the visitors.

Leinster rallied, however, with Fitzgerald once again proving the catalyst with his intelligent intercept setting up a prime attacking platform. From the ensuing scrum, Dave Kearney showed wondrous skill and strength to get an offload away to Eoin Reddan who crashed over from close-range.

Gopperth penalties on either side of the half-time break pushed Wasps out to a 18-10 lead.

Taking on an out-of-sorts Bath side on your home turf is one thing, but this Wasps outfit are serious customers.

They proved that again yesterday. The club almost went bankrupt three years ago before a controversial move from High Wycombe to their ultra-modern new home. Bankrolled by Irish insurance magnate Derek Richardson, Wasps are improving at an exponential rate.

Anchored by England heavyweights Haskell and Launchbury, they have heaps of class out wide with Charles Piutau, Elliot Daly and the powerful Frank Halai.

Daly showed his class in the 46th minute as he cut the Leinster defence to ribbons with scorching effort from 50 metres out.

A precious bonus-point was within Wasps' grasp with a powerful driving maul forcing a penalty try out of the visitors in the 55th minute.

It got worse for Leinster as Halai glided over for a fifth try following another relentless spell of recycling from the monstrous Wasps pack. To compound matters, Marty Moore, who has been embroiled in a tug-of-war between Leinster and Wasps in recent weeks, then hobbled off with an injury.

The outstanding Piutau raced away for yet another five-pointer in the dying minutes, with substitute Ashley Johnson powering over to bring up the half-century.

A tough ending to a tough campaign for Cullen and this Leinster side.

Wasps: C Piutau; J Bassett, E Daly (R Miller 66), B Macken, F Halai; J Gopperth (R Jackson 66), J Simpson (D Robson 3); M Mullan (T Bristow 66), E Shervington (A Johnson '62), L Cittadini (J Cooper-Woolley 62); J Launchbury (J Gaskell 62), B Davies, J Haskell, G Smith, S Jones (N Hughes 62).

Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, L Fitzgerald, N Reid (Ben Teo'o 62), D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan(I Boss 76); Jack McGrath (M Bent 57), S Cronin (R Strauss 53), M Moore (P Dooley 62); D Toner, R Ruddock; D Ryan, J Murphy (J van der Flier 45), J Heaslip.

Referee: M Raynal (France)

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