Saturday 16 February 2019

'It's just one game, nobody else has played' - Leo Cullen grounded following Leinster masterclass

Leinster 52 Wasps 3

Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Kieran Brookes, left, and Nizaam Carr of Wasps. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Kieran Brookes, left, and Nizaam Carr of Wasps. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

As champions, the broadcasters gave Leinster the honour of kicking off this edition of the Heineken Champions Cup and they responded by sending a chilling message to the rest of Europe with an eight-try demolition of Wasps.

Leo Cullen's men go to Toulouse next Sunday looking every bit the team who will pass the French side at the top of the all-time leaderboard.

The coach himself won't be getting carried away, but it is hard to dampen they hype after a stunning second-half.

Picking the man of the match award was the toughest task of the night. James Lowe got the official nod, but any one of Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, James Ryan or Tadhg Furlong could feel hard done by.

Aided by lifting from his Leinster team-mates Rhys Ruddock takes the ball in a lineout ahead of Wasps’ Brad Shields at the RDS last night. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Aided by lifting from his Leinster team-mates Rhys Ruddock takes the ball in a lineout ahead of Wasps’ Brad Shields at the RDS last night. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Of the lot, it was Ringrose whose creative spark did the most damage when the game was still in the balance. The centre was sensational in finding space for those around him and they certainly made the most of it on a soul-destroying evening for the big-spending Premiership side.

"We just need to be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves," the coach said. "It's just one game, nobody else has played. There are a lot of good teams.

"It was tough for Wasps, they have injuries and lost a player to suspension during the week. It was a disruptive week. Sometimes in Europe you only need to be a little off and the score can get out of your control.

"The intensity we played with until the very end was the most pleasing, we talked about every point counting. It was good to keep playing to the end.

"It wasn't a perfect first half by any means, it was a bit scrappy and we misfired at the set-piece. There was a big moment before half-time, they lose a player (Lima Sopoaga) to the sin-bin and we score before and 60 seconds in. The score went from 7-3 to 21-3.

"We managed to hold on to the ball better than last week, where we coughed it up a bit. We were better today."

Leinster's Luke McGrath dives over to score his side's fourth. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Luke McGrath dives over to score his side's fourth. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

They lost Dan Leavy to a calf injury in the warm-up but barely skipped a beat, bringing Rhys Ruddock in. Leavy, Cian Healy and Rob Kearney are all doubts for Toulouse.

Despite the rejig, Leinster got ahead early as Seán Cronin caught James Gaskell napping at the fringe of the ruck and backed his pace to make the line.

Sexton converted only for the Leinster defensive line to carelessly stray offside and allow Sopoaga get Wasps off the mark from the kicking tee. Wasps were fronting up so, with his side struggling for go-forward in the tight, Ringrose decided to spread the game with a stunning long pass to Jordan Larmour whose chip ahead was scrambled into touch by the covering defender.

Utterly dominant in terms of possession and territory, Leinster couldn't make their pressure pay.

Luke McGrath's pass to Cian Healy died in the air and the prop knocked on, before a quick throw-in from Rob Kearney created another opening for Lowe who cut through the cover but his pass came off Sexton's head when Henshaw was on the far side in space.

Ringrose unlocked the Wasps defence with another piece of magic, but Willie le Roux made sure Henshaw couldn't get to the line off the centre's classy offload to Ruddock.

Leinster's Jonny Sexton kicks a penalty during the Champions Cup match at the RDS Arena. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA
Leinster's Jonny Sexton kicks a penalty during the Champions Cup match at the RDS Arena. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA

When Leinster settled into their phase-play they were undone by Thomas Young at the ruck after Furlong's carry.

Despite their frustration, Leinster kept playing and they got a big decision on the cusp of half-time as Sopoaga was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on. The Kiwi was unlucky given Cronin's pass to Lowe was forward.

Cronin recovered his own ropey throw to set up one last attack of the half and, with another long Ringrose pass getting Lowe within touching distance of the line, a Furlong carry put Luke McGrath in position to snipe over from close range.

Sexton's conversion gave his side an 11-point lead at the break which was a better reflection of their utter domination of possession (75pc) and territory (79pc).

Having forced Wasps into 139 tackles in the first 40, the men in blue kept up their tempo after the interval and within a minute of the restart they'd made it 19-3 with a superbly worked set-piece try.

They attacked off the top of a lineout on halfway, McGrath who delivered the ball to Sexton and he helped it on to Henshaw. The Athlone man arced to go outside, but found Lowe's trail run superbly and the Kiwi broke the line and brushed off Le Roux's tackle before pinning his ears back and battling past Elliot Daly to the line.

Leinster's James Lowe dives over to score his side's third try against Wasps. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's James Lowe dives over to score his side's third try against Wasps. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The bonus point beckoned and put it to bed with 27 minutes remaining, however, and although it was McGrath who dotted down for his second score, the fourth try was all about Furlong who stood winger Bassett up long enough to cause panic in the defence before releasing Lowe up the left and he unselfishly found his scrum-half.

Again, Sexton converted and the hits kept coming. James Ryan stole a Wasps lineout before rampaging through the defence and the out-half pulled off a party trick with an O'Driscoll-style between the legs pass for Lowe to nab a second.

Cullen whipped off those in need of cotton wool but, with Wasps dreaming of Dublin Airport, Larmour darted over for a sixth try, Henshaw added the seventh and Jack McGrath completed the rout.

Leinster - R Kearney (J Tomane 54); J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 71), L McGrath (N McCarthy 64); C Healy (J McGrath h-t), S Cronin (J Tracy 56), T Furlong (A Porter 56); D Toner (S Fardy 64), J Ryan, D; Leavy, J van der Flier (S O'Brien 57), J Conan.

Wasps - W le Roux; J Bassett, J De Jongh, M Le Bourgeois, E Daly (c); L Sopoaga (B Searle 78), J Simpson (C Hampson 69); Z Zhvania (B Harris 54), T Taylor (T Cruse 59), K Brookes (W Stuart 54); W Rowlands (K Myall 59), J Gaskell; B Shields, T Young, N Carr (A Johnson 59).

Ref - R Poite (France)

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