AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP QUARTER-FINAL:
London Wasps 28 Leinster 48
What a crazy, crazy night. By the end, the biggest crowd for a rugby game in High Wycombe this season had been treated to nine tries but there was never much doubt that Leinster would come out on top after a harum-scarum opening quarter that set the evening’s tone.
Joe Schmidt will no doubt turn the hairdryer onto full blast when the video analysis is done on the four tries they conceded but the fact is that they have earned themselves a home Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final with Biarritz later this month.
With Warren Gatland sitting in the stand, there were a number of potential Lions who knew they could benefit from a standout performance and men like Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney did their chances of touring no harm.
That said, the visitors started with a stutter.
Leinster would have seen endless footage of the damage the Wasps back three of Elliot Daly, Tom Varndell and Christian Wade has done this season and yet they were hit by two early sucker punches from one of that very same trio.
Christian Wade is still only 21 and has yet to earn a full cap for England but there are those who would have him in the England team ahead of Chris Ashton and others who would bring him to Australia and hand him a red jersey.
He showed just why last night, finishing off a great break by Andrea Masi after just two minutes and then bursting through the Leinster defence all by himself 15 minutes later to claim a sensational try-double.
Even better for the man born right here in High Wycombe was the fact that he singed the visitors’ hair in such a stunning fashion along the very touchline where Gatland and Stuart Lancaster were camped for the evening.
Leinster will have cringed at some of their tackling but so too will Wasps, whose own mishaps in defence allowed Gordon D’Arcy and Ian Madigan to burst through the centre of their line and under the posts six and 23 minutes in.
So far, so entertaining.
Madigan hasn’t had too many throwing his hat into the ring for an all-expenses paid trip to Oz in June but the ease with which the 23-year old has slipped into the shirt vacated by Jonathan Sexton has been breathtaking.
He was purposeful and sharp last night and his penchant for line breaks and tries was apparent again after 23 minutes when, after multiple Leinster phases on the Wasps 22, he cried ‘enough’, gave a hand-off and skipped over.
The conversion left Leinster 14-12 to the good before the game settled down into a more conventional pattern of midfield tussles for a spell that, while distracting enough, lacked the thrills of the earlier exchanges.
From there to the break, the only scores came from the boots of Madigan and his counterpart Nick Robinson to leave it 20-15 at the interval but two bad errors by Elliot Daly resulted in a Madigan penalty and a try for Mike Ross soon after the interval.
That was, essentially, that.
Varndell went over for two tries as the second half began to play fast and loose just like the opening exchanges but they were made meaningless by touchdowns for Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa.
Biarritz scored 41 points in Kingsholm on Thursday night compared to the 48 the Irish province managed here at Adams Park.
It may not be the Heineken but you can’t knock it for entertainment.
London Wasps scorers: Tries: Wade 2, Varndell 2. Cons: N. Robinson. Pens: N. Robinson 2.
Leinster scorers: Tries: D’Arcy, Madigan, Ross, R. Kearney, Nacewa. Cons: Madigan 4. Pens: Madigan 5.
LONDON WASPS: E Daly; C Wade, A Masi, C Bell, T Varndell; N Robinson, J Simpson; Z Taulafo, TR Thomas, P Swainston; T Palmer, M Wentzel; J Launchbury, S Jones, A Johnson.
Replacements: J Poff for Jones (37); B Vunipola for Palmer (50); H Southwell for Daly (50); T Lindsay for TR Thomas (58); W Taylor for Swainston (51); T Payne for Taulafo (57); C Davies for Simpson (57); S Jones for Masi (73).
LEINSTER: R Kearney; D Kearney, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin for Strauss (51); R Ruddock for McLaughlin (51); J McGrath for Healy (53); Q Roux for Toner (69); J Cooney for Boss (72); J Hagan for Ross (72); A Conway for McFadden (75).
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FFR).