Wasps 51 Leinster 10
Twelve months since Johnny Sexton was stood down for 12 weeks by neurologist Dr Jean-François Cherman, concussion has revisited the 30-year-old.
On his 100th Leinster appearance, and captaining the side in the absence of Isa Nacewa despite the return of Jamie Heaslip (from concussion), Sexton lasted just eight minutes of this record defeat in Europe that means Wasps finish top of Pool 5.
Sexton immediately comes under the care of the Ireland medical team as preparations for the Six Nations opener against Wales on February 7th begin under a dark cloud.
The failing of Saturday’s Head Injury Assessment (HIA) is his first head trauma since sustaining four concussions in 2014. He was forced out of last October’s World Cup Pool match against France with a “very minor adductor strain”, according to the IRFU’s unreliable injury update, following a heavy tackle by Louis Picamoles.
Leinster were leading 5-0 at the Ricoh Arena, after a lightning-paced start yielded a Zane Kirchner try, when Sexton assisted Noel Reid in a tackle on former teammate Brendan Macken. He entered contact high and clashed heads with Macken.
Leap up and tackle
As Sexton was being treated by Leinster doctor Jim McShane, Wasps attacked the same wide channel, which prompted him to leap up and tackle Macken again. He left the field moments later as
made his European debut (
was rested) in the most testing of circumstances.
"Johnny got just a head knock," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen. "We didn't want to risk him going back out there . . . so he'll follow the usual return to play protocols.
“Those guys are in [Ireland] camp next week, but he looked okay in the dressing room there.”
A medical update is due from the Ireland squad base in Carton House on Monday lunchtime. Marty Moore was helped off with a hamstring injury on 62 minutes just as Frank Halai crossed for the fifth try. With Mike Ross still recovering from his hamstring tear, Tadhg Furlong and Nathan White are currently Ireland's available tighthead props.
The bonus point try, which guided Wasps into the Champions Cup quarter-final, came on 53 minutes when referee
ran under the posts as the relentless Wasps pack drove the seemingly immortal
through a disintegrating Leinster defence.
As mentioned, Leinster started encouragingly when a Reid grubber was re-gathered by Luke Fitzgerald. It was the Ireland centre/winger who then threw an impressive left-handed pass to put Kirchner over. Wasps responded with former Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth sprinting away from Rhys Ruddock before Joe Launchbury, the brilliant English lock, benefited from an accidental Smith header to claim Wasps' second try.
Eoin Reddan kept it competitive when sneaking over moments later thanks to a superb Dave Kearney offload in contact.
Gopperth penalties made it 15-10 at half-time and 18-10 two minutes into the second period. That’s when Wasps pulled away.
“We lost our way very quickly start of the second half,” Cullen said.
“That’s hugely disappointing. Credit to Wasps. They were ruthless.”
Elliot Daly scorched the earth, and the Kearneys, for an excellent try after Dan Robson, in for the injured Joe Simpson, combined well with Gopperth to tear open the Leinster midfield.
There was still time, plenty of time, for the penalty try and Halai casually crossing out wide before Ulster-bound All Black fullback Charles Piutau, who was phenomenal, profited from Marsh's pass to nobody to glide 65 metres.
“Winning this group is an incredible achievement,” said Young. “No one gave us a chance at the start of the season and, unlike our win in Leinster a few months ago, the players should this time get the credit.”
Ashley Johnson’s 80th-minute drive over the line brought this hiding over the half-century mark. It’s an unwanted record for Cullen the coach: Leinster’s heaviest defeat in Europe had been the 43-7 loss at Toulouse in 2002.
“We need to be much better how we manage possession, how we manage field position as well, because we just played ourselves into trouble too much in the second half,” Cullen added.
“They just gassed in for scores. Bit of a vicious cycle really but it’s just disappointing that we don’t show a bit more steely resolve half way through that second because we gave up a lot of cheap points.”
All told, a miserable experience. Leinster face the Dragons this Friday at Rodney Parade without their international contingent. On this showing, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But the major concern is the well-being of Ireland’s outhalf.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Z Kirchner try, 5-0; 11: J Gopperth try, 5-5; J Gopperth con, 5-7; 16: J Launchbury try, 5-12; 30: E Reddan try, 10-12; 38: J Gopperth pen, 10-15. Half-time. 42: J Gopperth pen, 10-18; 45: E Daly try, 10-23; J Gopperth con, 10-25; 50:Pen try, 10-30; J Gopperth con, 10-32; 61: F Halai try, 10-37; J Gopperth con, 10-39; 70: C Piutau try, 10-44; J Gopperth con, 10-46; 78: A Johnson try, 10-51. LEINSTER: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton (capt), E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore; D Toner, R Ruddock; D Ryan, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Replacements: C Marsh for J Sexton (8 mins, HIA), J van der Flier for J Murphy (half-time), R Strauss for S Cronin, P Dooley for J McGrath, M Bent for M Moore, B Te'o for N Reid (all 62 mins), R Molony for D Ryan (71 mins), I Boss for E Reddan (76 mins). WASPS: C Piutau; J Bassett, E Daly, B Macken, F Halai; J Gopperth, J Simpson; M Mullan, E Shirvington, L Cittadini; J Launchbury, B Davies; J Haskell (capt), G Smith, S Jones. Replacements: D Robson for J Simpson (5 mins), J Cooper-Whoolley for F Halai (28-38 mins, sin-bin), J Gaskell for J Launchbury (63 mins), T Bristow for M Mullan, R Jackson for J Gopperth, R Miller for E Daly (all 66 mins). Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).