‘Different’ Leinster wary of Wasps sting in Europe

Eoin Reddan has often spoken of the dangers faced by the provinces in the first round of European fare, especially when the opposition happens to be English.
‘Different’ Leinster wary of Wasps sting in Europe

The Leinster scrum-half spent four seasons with Wasps and he saw then and since the bounce which clubs from that league can enjoy when they pitch up for the opening round of fixtures, whether that be in the old Heineken Cup or its Champions Cup successor.

Leinster have kicked off their European duties against English opposition six times in the 11 seasons since the current format was introduced. Somehow, all of them happen to have been played out at the RDS.

Bath nicked a win in Dublin back in 2005 and London Irish repeated the dose in ‘09, but Exeter Chiefs and Wasps – whose visit this Sunday comes just a year after their last – have also come close to staging successful raids.

Reddan’s theory has always centred on the fact that the provinces take longer to integrate their internationals back into the fold whereas the English clubs tend to be deprived of a smaller number of their best and brightest.

That is only magnified this season as Leinster look to next Sunday’s pool starter against his old club – in Dublin, naturally – having just welcomed back the last of the 20 internationals they had to sacrifice to the global gig for the opening two months of the domestic campaign.

Wasps, in contrast, lost just a quarter of that number to the global get-together and Leinster head coach Leo Cullen mentioned on Friday, after their Guinness Pro12 defeat of Scarlets, that Wasps had led 20-8 at one point in their round one meeting last season.

“It’s a completely different year and group of players,” he added, however. “I won’t be looking back at Wasps. It is still very relevant, but we did have a slow start.

“We had a bit of a makeshift team that day if memory serves me correctly.

“We had a lot of injuries this time last year, so we are probably in slightly better health. Wasps are probably in better health as well because they have made some pretty significant acquisitions during the summer.” Among them were out-half Jimmy Gopperth and the centres Brendan Macken and James Downey who have all worn the Leinster blue and will surely have some pointers for their coaches this week even if Gopperth sits this one out with a suspension.

Gopperth, rightly or wrongly, became the focal point for a disaffected Leinster fan base during the dour two-year tenure of Matt O’Connor, but Cullen has the province swinging from the hip again and has made a generally favourable early impression.

Five wins from seven games has left them fourth in the Pro12 ladder, though Cullen diverted some of the plaudits for that by pointing out that the absence of so many big names was no surprise and that it was planned for a long time ago both by him and his predecessor.

“We had 16 (players at the World Cup) initially and we were sort of budgeting for in and around that. We scoured the (AIL) clubs and made sure that we had a few extra bodies in the mix and we integrated the academy into all our training, so they knew the senior programme. That brought the opportunity to see other players and we are up to 50 players used already. It is a lot and it was always going to be a bit disjointed at times because you are changing bodies. I’ve learned a lot about a lot of players.”

With Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa back on board they possess a better arsenal this time, though they sit in a pool that also boasts Toulon and Bath. It also remains to be seen if Rob Kearney is available next Sunday after tweaking a hamstring against Scarlets on Friday.

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