Monday 20 November 2017

Wasps won't be stung by England loss - Lancaster

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When James Haskell left Dublin a fortnight ago, we reminded him that our reunion would be swifter than he might have imagined.

"Oh yeah," he suddenly remembered. "We will be back…"

At least he exited the room without stumbling; when he had been replaced a few hours earlier by Eddie Jones, he had, comically, almost tripped himself up as the sodden turf clung to his boots.

It had been in keeping with a stuttering challenge far removed from a side supposedly perched upon the precipice of rugby folklore.

A clutch of his colleagues return to European action this weekend; Saracens should be expected to re-stage England's dominance of Scotland in Glasgow, but the mini-revival of such a recent Anglo-Irish squabble in Dublin 4 - Leinster v Wasps - promises much intrigue.

Leinster will house twice as many survivors from that torrid Six Nations denouement as their visitors and, while some players feel it might give them a psychological boost, Stuart Lancaster dismisses the notion out of hand.

"Every game starts from zero in my mind," the Leinster coach asserts ahead of a clash where north of 47,500 tickets have already been sold as Irish fans seek to thwart another table-topping English outfit in HQ.

Different

"There are two completely different teams, and the way England play and Wasps play is different, and the way we play and Ireland play is slightly different.

"It has little relevance in the context of this particular game for me. Leinster's motivation is to build on performances that we have put in already this year and get that semi-final place.

"Wasps are a true champion European team, similar to Leinster, in that they are former European champions and they are getting back to that former glory. Rightly so, they are top of the Premiership.

"I watched them a lot this season. They have scored 70 tries this season, four tries per game, and they are top in virtually every stat you could measure.

"But then we are top of the Pro12 and we have scored 70-odd tries as well so it is going to be a great match-up."

A splash of sunshine rugby to beckon the spring, perhaps, after the often dour and turgid fare served up by the annual northern hemisphere's flagship slog-fest when the clocks often seemed to be turned back a century, rather than merely an hour.

Both sides, predictably, won again at the weekend to maintain their respective gallops in domestic competitions and, also predictably, both camps sought to dampen any ardour after their successes.

Each may have had a point; Wasps were lax against middling Worcester as they rubber-stamped their play-off place.

"None of the areas in our game pleased me," said hard-to-please coach Dai Young.

All the while, Leinster were left reeling by a series of breakaway sorties from an average Cardiff side, a shuddering reminder of what Wasps themselves did in this city last season.

Leinster, clearly, have improved since then and Saturday's brief blip served to reinforce that notion; their difficulty is that so have Wasps.

"They have changed," Lancaster agrees. "They have different players in. Charles Piutau is gone, George Smith is gone but Danny Cipriani and Kurtley Beale have come in.

"Nathan Hughes has stepped up, James Haskell will be fit this week. So I've a good knowledge of them across the board.

"They are better now, I believe, because this time last year they weren't top of the Premiership and they weren't scoring 70 tries.

"Their attacking game has come on, and the quality of their counter-attacking game in particular and their broken-field attack is exceptional.

"I would say it's the best in the Premiership by a mile at the moment. Equally, I'm really confident in the way we have been progressing."

Leinster will draw on their own strengths in this resurgent campaign as they strike a balance with the caution that must be displayed to offset the stripey speedsters.

"It making sure defensively that you are strong and robust and that you can put pressure on them," says Lancaster. "You have probably seen a difference in the width of our defensive line and the line-speed we are able to create on the back of that.

"Secondly, when you are attacking it is your decision-making about when to offload and when to carry the ball and make sure you're organised off set-piece.

Dangerous

"It is turnover ball where they are most dangerous but, equally, I have seen them score tries straight from set-piece as well, so they can challenge you in lots of different ways.

"They have a good maul and a good scrum and they are strong defensively.

"The Leinster players today are all in the video rooms preparing. They all know the challenge coming our way.

"Obviously I can add some more insider knowledge on the players but I coached them at international rugby, I haven't coached them at Wasps.

"I'll pass on that information because I want Leinster to win but Jimmy Gopperth will be doing the same with his Leinster playbook in his back pocket."

Leinster won't mind. They've been re-writing scripts all season.

Irish Independent

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