Tuesday 20 March 2018

Schmidt's young guns handed reality check

Leinster 6
London Wasps 41

New coach Joe Schmidt got the first glimpse of his Leinster team, admittedly shorn of a host of international players, against Wasps in a pre-season friendly at Donnybrook last night.

If ever there was a case for favouring performance over result, this was it and there appeared to be uncertainty and confusion in the Leinster defence right from the get-go.

Out-half Ian Madigan and right- wing David Kearney were easily shrugged off in the build-up to Tom Varndell's quick finish in the third minute. It was a passage of passive defence that was simply unacceptable -- even at this stage of the season.

Thereafter, it was also quickly apparent that Schmidt has given his players greater licence to play what is in front of them. He wants to empower them to take control of the ball.

That is what they slowly began to do with Devin Toner prevented from playing the ball by a tackler, who did not release the lock on the ground. Madigan struck the penalty from 34 metres to make it 5-3 in the 28th minute.

Full-back Luke Fitzgerald fizzed about the field, bristling with energy and a sure touch that belied his 10-month absence from competitive action. He needed a few on his wavelength.

Gradually, this became the case as centres Fergus McFadden, on for the injured Eamon Sheridan at the end of the first quarter, and Eoin O'Malley got the ball into their hands.

The impressive leg drive of Kearney and O'Malley on two occasions hinted at the improved strength in the younger players flooding through from the Academy system.

Another former Ireland U-20, Madigan, launched an impressive penalty from the left to slip Leinster into the lead for the first time in the 37th minute. It was well deserved, given their calm recovery from Varndell's try and for the way they coveted the ball.

On a rare breakout, the Wasps attack engineered a gap for No 8 John Hart to step through for a gain of 40 metres. It was enough to draw the penalty for offside, which was sent over by out-half Dave Walder on the whistle.

The English club quickly moved further clear when a rash of replacements from both sides led to reduced organisation for whichever was without the ball. This led to centre Ben Jacobs getting in on the end of a slick move, with Walder adding the extras in the 45th minute.

The home side returned to other end only to be repelled by a Shaun Edwards-inspired defence, centre Jacobs stealing upfield for wing Richard Haughton to show a clean pair of heels to replacement Niall Morris. Joe Simpson converted.

Then scrum-half Simpson's pace and footwork bamboozled the Leinster fringe for Mark van Gisbergen to accelerate to the line. Simpson nailed the conversion.

By now, Wasps were totally in command, moving the ball around at ease until replacement flanker Dominic Ryan rattled Elliot Daly with a typically full-blooded hit.

It provided momentary relief, before Haughton crossed unopposed in the 72nd minute and Sevens exponent Christian Wade skipped over for their sixth try soon after.

It was a reality check for Joe Schmidt and the young players who seek to challenge and change the status quo.

Leinster -- L Fitzgerald; D Kearney, E O'Malley, E Sheridan, I Nacewa; I Madigan, P O'Donohoe; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross, T Hogan, D Toner, E Sheriff, P Ryan, S O'Brien (capt). Replacements: F McFadden for Sheridan (19); J Harris-Wright for Strauss, N Morris for Fitzgerald, M Keating for Nacewa, I Boss for O'Donohoe (all h/t); B Marshall for O'Brien, S Wright for Ross, I McKinley for Madigan, I Nacewa for Kearney (all 55); D Ryan for P Ryan (62); J McGrath for van der Merwe (69); M Ross for Wright, M Galarza for Hogan both (72).

London Wasps -- J Wallace; R Haughton, B Jacobs, D Waldouck (capt), T Varndell; D Walder, N Berry; Z Taulafo, T Lindsay, P Vickery, M Veale, R Birkett, W Matthews, S Betsen, J Hart.

Replacements: R Webber for Lindsay (14 -- temp); S Jones for Matthews (25); T Rees for Hart, R Flutey for Waldouck, B Broster for Vickery , J Cannon for Veale, J Simpson for Berry, C Wade for Varndell all ht; S Shaw for Birkett, M van Gisbergen for Wallace, R Webber for Lindsay, T Payne for Taulafo, E Daly for Jacobs all (55); M Veale for Jones (77).

Ref -- J Lacey (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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