REPORT: Wasps 19 Leinster 37
REPORT: Wasps 19 Leinster 37
January 20, 2019 / Dave Mervyn
Leinster Rugby set up a mouth-watering Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against provincial rivals Ulster after seeing off Wasps 37-19 in Coventry to finish top of Pool 1.
Their fifth pool victory – and fourth with a try bonus point – gained home advantage for Leo Cullen’s men at Europe’s quarter-final stage. They advance as the third seeds and will play sixth-seeded Ulster at the Aviva Stadium on March 29/30/31. The winners will meet either Racing 92 or Toulouse in the semi-finals, with the higher seed having home country advantage.
On the final day of the pool stages, Leinster dominated the first half at the Ricoh Arena to lead 20-0 at half-time. Ross Byrne converted tries from Garry Ringrose and Sean Cronin – his fifth of the tournament – and kicked two penalties, and his half-back partner, eventual man-of-the-match Jamison Gibson-Park, lapped up the province’s impressive ball retention.
Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Sean O’Brien returned from their respective injuries to get important game-time, and while Wasps came more into it after the break, scoring three tries of their own, Leinster’s lead was never troubled thanks to Cronin’s second maul score and a brilliantly-constructed try finished by replacement Noel Reid.
20-year-old Academy scrum half Hugh O’Sullivan was also sprung from the bench to make his European debut, and notably, Cronin’s brace means he is the joint-top try scorer in this season’s tournament with six tries, a tally only matched by his Ireland colleague, Jacob Stockdale from Ulster.
Wasps and Leinster both made late changes with back rowers Brad Shields (side strain) and Jack Conan (shoulder) unable to play, and the returning O’Brien came in at number 8 for his first Leinster start since October. A busy start saw Ross Byrne and Gibson-Park dictating from half-back with Jordan Larmour and Dave Kearney both stretching their legs early on.
Out-half Byrne kicked Leinster ahead with a 12th minute penalty, the attack set up by a James Ryan lineout steal and a neat midfield bust involving Ringrose and O’Brien. Two mauls off penalties kept the province on the front foot, and after Kearney did well to keep an attack going, Ringrose stepped inside Nathan Hughes to score his converted try beside the posts.
Wasps, who lost captain Joe Launchbury to injury, threatened through Italian centre Michele Campagnaro before solid defence forced two knock-ons. The home side continued to leak penalties, a close-range 28th-minute one seeing Ross Byrne make it 13-0, before an intercept from Adam Byrne and a rip in the tackle from Larmour prevented Wasps from building momentum.
Try number two arrived six minutes before the break, Nizaam Carr being penalised for offside and the resulting kick to the left corner and well-executed lineout maul allowed Cronin to crash over. After the extras were curled over by Byrne, Wasps exerted some decent pressure either side of the break, but a Rhys Ruddock rip on Elliot Daly and a knock-on, a few phases later, thwarted their attack.
There were no denying them in the 52nd minute as a prolonged spell in the Leinster 22 ended with Campagnaro stepping inside a couple of defenders and big number 8 Hughes powered in under the posts. Those seven points were clawed back within five minutes, Kearney carrying well from a kick receipt before a penalty was plunged into the corner and Ryan’s lineout take led to a muscular maul and Cronin’s second try of the game.
Byrne swept over a well-struck conversion from wide on the right, with Leinster’s strong bench becoming more of a factor as it was gradually unloaded. A clever dummy at a ruck saw Wasps scrum-half Dan Robson scamper over for their second try, with Lima Sopoaga’s conversion cutting the deficit to 13 points again.
Leinster bounced back strongly with the bonus point arriving soon after. A power-packed carry from Cian Healy launching the attack which saw three more replacements combine, Max Deegan breaking and offloading for Rory O’Loughlin to surge through and pass for Reid to ground the ball beside the posts.
Reid finished with a 10-point haul, converting his own try and firing home a last-minute penalty as Leinster were already assured of their five-point return. In between Wasps took their tally to three tries when a sweeping move ended with Gaby Lovobalavu doing well to release replacement Marcus Watson for the right corner.
Leinster Rugby returns to the RDS Arena this Friday to take on Scarlets (KO 7.35pm). Join the roar and get tickets from €26.