Leinster send out eight-try statement of their European ambitions
Defending champions hand out record European defeat to Wasps at the RDS
Leinster’s James Lowe breaks to score their fifth try and his second during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster 52 Wasps 3
The Heineken Champions Cup is back, and so are the champions, aka the machine. As opening nights go, this was some eight-try statement. For their supporters, one imagines Leinster have never been more fun to watch, and for their players, they’ve possibly never been more fun to play in either.
The first full house at the RDS for a European tie in some time, curiously, enjoyed it no end. The scary thing, for the rest of Europe anyway, is that Leinster left at least four tries behind and ought, in theory, to only get better.
Wasps threatened sporadically, albeit more with strike moves than anything sustained, but Lima Sopoaga compounded a couple of loose passes by incurring a yellow card just before half-time. Cue the championship minutes and the champions’ double whammy, which made it 21-3 and effectively settled the contest.
It wasn’t perfect from the champions, but it was still awesomely good. Despite a couple of wayward lineouts, for the most part their set pieces and starter plays were executed with customary precision, as was their ruthless clearing out. Leinster varied the point of attack with their hard and invariably straight runners, with tip-on passes or passes inside, and Wasps were enveloped by the blue tide.
Outstanding individual performances abounded, not least by James Ryan, whose performance bordered on freakish, and Tadhg Furlong wasn’t far behind. Operating behind an uber efficient pack, the excellent Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton pulled the strings, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose looked razor sharp and James Lowe revelled.
The forecast rain never materialised, and conditions were altogether more favourable than anticipated. Just seven minutes before kick-off it was announced that Rhys Ruddock had replaced Dan Leavy; and, having been left out of the original 23, how Ruddock was pumped for this one, charging into contact.
Nor were Leinster in the least disrupted. In the face of a fast defensive line speed, but with an advantage for offside, Seán Cronin spotted no-one was behind the ruck, picked up and sped toward the line from the 22, veering past Willie le Roux and taking the tackle from Juan de Jongh to score.
Sexton converted before Sopoaga opened Wasps’ account with a penalty against Henshaw for offside. In truth, they should have scored off a Rob Kearney quick throw to Jordan Larmour and he passed infield to Lowe, who veered between a couple of tight forwards in a non-existent chase. He took the wrong option in the end, as perhaps did Henshaw after breaking clear from Ringrose’s lovely offload despite Ruddock’s astonishing one-handed pick-up on the run.
But they were temporary respites. McGrath was the instigator in many ways with a quick tap on his own 22, and Henshaw’s wide pass gave Cronin a two-on-one with Lowe. In truth his pass was forward, but Sopoaga was pinged and binned for a one-handed slap down.
Cue championship minutes for the champions.
After Cronin cleverly retrieved a loose tap down to link with Sexton, Leinster went up a gear as they do better than anyone. Generating quite a tempo through the phases, there were some outstanding carries by Cian Healy, Henshaw, Ruddock, Ringrose and many more, before Henshaw passed long to Lowe, and after a good carry by Furlong, McGrath timed his moment to score. Sexton converted for a 14-3 interval lead.
It had its lucky origins, but, with 75 per cent possession and 79 per cent territory, it had certainly been coming.
Sure enough, they struck again on the resumption with a sweet strike play from a lineout on half-way. Sexton pulled the ball back between Josh van der Flier and Ringrose to the deeper lying Henshaw, and his inside pass put Lowe through the midfield gap. The Kiwi winger veered past the despairing Le Roux and fended Elliot Daly to score. Sexton made it 21-3. Everybody knew their role in what was perhaps another example of the added detail Felipe Contepomi is bringing.
Better followed with the inevitable bonus-point try, Ryan trucking up reclaimed possession inside their own 10-metre line before Sexton worked his wraparound with Devin ‘deft hands’ Toner, and the outhalf passed to Furlong. Wearing ‘3’ but doing a more than passable impression of a ‘13’ in the outside centre channel, Furlong shimmied from right to left foot and took De Jongh’s tackle to release Lowe up the left, and he gave the try-scoring pass inside to McGrath.
A barnstorming burst by Ryan, after his second lineout steal to boot, was supported by McGrath, as ever, and from the recycle, Sexton passed between his legs for Henshaw to give Lowe his second run in. Party time! Sexton even tagged on the touchline conversion before departing.
Home crowd and home team alike were insatiable. Ross Byrne combined with Larmour, now at fullback, and Ringrose with Henshaw, before Jack McGrath was mauled over for another try. A giddy night ended in high spirits, if prematurely for Romain Poite, after he backed into Ruddock and was helped off.
They don’t hand out trophies in October admittedly, but that’s just as well for the rest Europe.
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6 mins Cronin try, Sexton con 7-0; 11 mins Sopoaga pen 7-3; 40 (+3 mins) L McGrath try, Sexton con 14-3; (half-time 14-7); 44 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 21-7; 52 mins L McGrath try, Sexton con 28-3; 61 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 35-3; 74 mins Lowe try, Byrne con 42-3; 75 mins Henshaw try 47-3; 80 mins J McGrath try 52-3.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Jack McGrath for Healy (half-time), Joe Tomane for Kearney (54 mins), James Tracy for Cronin, Andrew Porter for Furlong (both 56), Seán O’Brien for van der Flier (57), Nick McCarthy for L McGrath (63), Scott Fardy for Toner (64), Ross Byrne for Sexton (70.
WASPS: Willie le Roux; Josh Bassett, Juan de Jongh, Michael Le Bourgeois, Elliot Daly (capt); Lima Sopoaga, Joe Simpson; Zurabi Zhvania, Tommy Taylor, Kieran Brookes; Will Rowlands, James Gaskell; Brad Shields, Thomas Young, Nizaam Carr.
Replacements: Ben Harris for Zhvania, Will Stuart for Brookes (both 54 mins), Kearnan Myall for Rowlands, Tom Cruse for Taylor, Ashley Johnson for Carr (all 59), Craig Hampson for Simpson (69), Billy Searle for Sopoaga, Rob Miller for le Roux (both 78). Sinbinned: Sopoaga (40-50 mins).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).