Slow, painful season coming. Not in Leo Cullen’s worst nightmare could he have foreseen a record home European defeat, especially considering the far more intimidating packs that loom on the horizon.
This felt like a must-win game if Leinster are to make any imprint on the Champions Cup in 2016. Instead a 27-point losing margin smashes the 27-10 collapse against the mighty Leicester in 1996.
Remember those days? Cullen would as he had just entered the province’s fledgling professional ranks.
The ‘injury curse’ excuse used to explain Ireland’s World Cup demise can’t be rolled out after every defeat to a team Leinster would in previous campaigns have swept past on autopilot.
The loss of three forwards – Sean O’Brien, Richardt Strauss and Mike McCarthy – to concussion left Leinster staring into a two-score deficit without a strike runner to carry past a solid visiting defence.
Really, it was O’Brien’s premature departure, coupled with Ben Te’o’s injury, that stripped Leinster of the power surge needed to turn the tide and lift this largely muted 16,791 crowd.
“Losing those ball-carriers, yeah, for sure it does make it a challenge but we have plenty of ball-carriers throughout the group,” Cullen protested. “I wouldn’t have thought it would have been as much of an issue as it was.”
Ruaridh Jackson had opened the scoring after a damaged-looking Mike Ross was penalised at an early scrum.
Ross recovered to get the edge on Wasps loosehead Matt Mullan but Tadhg Furlong found it difficult after relieving the veteran tighthead. In fairness to Furlong, the entire pack was crushed in the second half scrums.
Last season Leinster were lucky to secure a narrow victory over Dai Young’s visiting Englishmen.
It didn’t seem possible, what with Sexton and Sean O’Brien back on deck, that they could perform as poorly again. But they were far worse.
Despite some threatening signs whenever Charles Piutau galloped into the wide channels, there wasn’t much concern when Elliot Daly’s big left boot made it 9-6 after 25 minutes.
Still, it took an excellent Dave Kearney cover tackle on Frank Halai to deny one such Piutau probe and pass (Ulster have purchased a world-class fullback for next season).
Kearney started enthusiastically, seemingly burying his World Cup demons, but he was at fault for Christian Wade’s damaging try on 30 minutes.
Caught out of position for Joe Simpson’s box-kick, the Irish winger let it bounce three times before falling over as Wade gathered and easily skipped over the try line.
Jackson’s conversion made it 16-6 at the turn.
It could have been a three-point game. Some poor passing by Eoin Reddan close to the Wasps line led to knock-ons by Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath as Cullen’s men failed to exploit two crucial try-scoring opportunities.
Strauss had already been forced off with the latest of several career concussions. O’Brien suffered a similar fate after initially playing on despite a heavy blow around the 15 minute mark.
As ever the Tullow flanker left a massive void.
Early in the second half McCarthy brought the failed ‘head injury assessments’ up to three.
If all three need longer than six days to complete return-to-play protocols and Isa Nacewa, Te'o, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald can't make it back, this European expedition could be in ruins before the Toulon trip on December 12th. "I don't think the guys are too bad," said Cullen. "They are all up and about. It just depends on the information I get from the medics."
McCarthy and O’Brien had so clearly been Leinster’s muscle. Nathan Hughes immediately began to make extra yardage and suddenly the game was gone.
Halai found the soft shoulder of Noel Reid, took contact and offloaded to allow Simpson to accelerate away from Hayden Triggs and the other despairing blue jerseys.
Jackson’s conversion made it 23-6. Cian Healy, Furlong and Luke McGrath arrived but there was no fight in this defeat.
Everyone, naturally, looked to Sexton for salvation. On 53 minutes he blasted a kickable penalty over the dead-ball line.
Soon after, the newly formed Leinster frontrow was twisted and minced.
Daly missed the long-range penalty but when Leinster finally rumbled into the Wasps 22, after the hour mark, Mullan out-wrestled Cronin to secure possession.
Jordi Murphy carried with relish but lost the ball twice in contact. You can’t win a cruiserweight fight with a welterweight boxer.
The performance descended into farce when another scrum was destroyed by a now ravenous Wasps pack. Daly's latest long-range penalty fell short to Kearney, who knocked on, before the retreating Jack Conan touched the ball in an offside position.
Jackson easily nudged the gift over to make it 26-6.
Rare to see Leinster’s faithful streaming out the gates with the clock still ticking. They missed Piutau’s try.
The All Black was in the right place, as the best players always are, at the right time to profit when Sailosi Tagicakibau was held up short.
Seconds later the RDS announcer, never short of a foolishly ill-timed remark, warned the already disgusted crowd to buy their tickets for Toulon at the Aviva stadium the week before Christmas.
A repeat of last season’s at-times shambolic performances under Matt O’Connor didn’t seem possible. Until now.
“Is it insurmountable?” Cullen asked rhetorically. “No, it’s not.”
It can also get worse.
Bath at The Rec on Saturday comes rushing at the new head coach and his disjointed team.