Leinster rout Wasps again to set up Ulster quarter-final
Leo Cullen’s side secure comfortable bonus-point victory and cement top spot
Sean O’Brien returned to the Leinster fold against Wasps. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Wasps 19 Leinster 37
So Leinster will meet Ulster in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup at the end of March. That’s high intensity, more than the hot glamour of Toulouse or Racing, although the winner of that promised tetchy meeting in Dublin will play the winner of all-French tussle.
A combination of influences and results on the final day of pool games sets up the Irish sides for an Aviva stadium filler. While both Leinster and Toulouse won their games, Toulouse failed to get a try-scoring bonus point in their home success against Bath, which ensures the all-Irish meeting.
No less than four former Leinster players, Dave Shanahan, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy, started for Ulster against Leicester Tigers on Saturday with more on the bench. So some niggle too.
As they often do with their up tempo game, Leinster eventually revealed stress points in the Ricoh Arena. Some times that can take some a little while but after 17 minutes Wasps had fractured as Leinster ripped into an offensive mode from the start.
That sprightly beginning had Leinster in permanent residency in Wasps’ territory for almost the entire first half, with Dan Robson, who Eddie Jones has included in his England squad, spending much of his time box-kicking from defence.
Wasps were unlucky to lose their captain Joe Launchbury early in the game in a collision. After treatment the England lock departed for a HIA, which Wasps said he passed, yet he never returned to the match.
Leinster’s first opportunity came from a Wasps offside with Ross Byrne landing the penalty. Points on the board took just 12 minutes. But just one minute before that was probably a more inspirational sight with Seán O’Brien’s first significant ball carry since he broke his arm against Argentina last November.
The number eight had come in for Jack Conan, who hadn’t recovered from a shoulder injury from last week, with Max Deegan moving to the bench,
It was Garry Ringrose who initially eased any anxiety and quickened Leinster ambition, as minutes after O’Brien’s notice that he was back they pressed into the Wasps’ line in numbers. After several recycles Jamison Gibson-Park found Ringrose on a diagonal run a few metres out. The Blackrock centre stepped off his right foot and darted inside, a few hands feeling the fabric of his blue shirt but not halting his charge.
Leinster were cruising and 10-0 ahead, Wasps at that point without a single passage of play in the Leinster 22. While it took some good covering defence from Dave Kearney to knock Josh Bassett off his gallop down the right and some scrambling defence, Leinster held control.
That was rewarded when Byrne kicked another penalty and then to touch on 34 minutes. Seán Cronin found Rhys Ruddock in the lineout and the Leinster maul rumbled forward. Now surely a trademark, Cronin peeled off the back of the body mountain for his fifth try of the competition, one short of Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale.
The half closed with Leinster 20-0 ahead and Wasps only sporadically allowed to move out of second gear, with Byrne and Gibson-Park controlling where the match was played.
Wasps saved their best period for the opening 10 minutes after the break when they finally came to life and found territory and possession. Michele Campagnaro made the first raid towards the Leinster line with Cronin barricading his way before the ursine Nathan Hughes barrelled over with the Leinster defence stretched.
It seemed then Wasps had found some energy and intent. But Leinster, eager not to hand them momentum, were plotting. Another attacking lineout, another maul with Cronin again scoring his second try of the afternoon for a 27-7 lead, the hooker drawing equal with Stockdale.
Wasps were to get two more tries with Robson dummying his pass and selling the Leinster defence before racing for the line and replacement Marcus Watson diving in two minutes from the end. Noel Reid also combined sweetly with Rory O’Loughlin in a finish which Leinster started from the halfway line.
But it was always nailed down for the Dublin side with Hugh O’Sullivan also coming on for his first taste of European rugby.
“People might say they put the cue on the rack and in the second half the game was won,” said Wasps director of rugby Dai Young afterwards. “They are going to take some beating in this competition.”
In part he was right as Leinster controlled the game and played it in the right areas, although Wasps added a couple more tries. But that was veneer in a match always in control and always in sight.
SCORING SEQUENCE: 12 mins R Byrne pen 0-3; 17 mins G Ringrose try, Byrne con 0-10; 28 mins Byrne pen 0-13; 34 mins S Cronin try, Byrne con 0-20; 52 mins N Hughes try, Sopoaga con 7-20; 59 mins Cronin try, Byrne con 7-27; 63 mins Robson try, Sipoagan con 14-27; 68 mins N Reid try, con 14-34; 78 mins M Watson try, 19-34; 80 mins Reid pen 19-37
WASPS: R Miller; J Bassett, M Campagnaro, G Lovobalavu, E Daly; L Sopoaga, D Robson; Z Zhvania, T Cruse, J Cooper Woolley; J Launchbury (capt), W Rowlands; B Morris, N Carr, N Hughes.
Replacements: C Matthews for Launchbury (10 mins); B Harris for Zhvania (56); W Stuart for Cooper-Whoolley (58); B Searle for Miller, M Watson for Sopoaga (both 64); B Harris for Robson; J Gaskell for Rolands (both 70).
LEINSTER: J Larmour; A Byrne, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, S O’Brien.
Replacements: C Healy for McGrath (45 mins); S Fardy for Toner, A Porter and Furlong (both 53); M Deegan for O’Brien (56); R O’Loughlin for Henshaw (61); N Reid for Byrne (65); J Treacy for Cronion (66); H O’Sullivan for Gibson-Park (74).
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland)