This always looked like being a tricky assignment for a Leinster side that had only recently reintegrated their sizeable World Cup contingent, especially given Wasps had been busy in the transfer market last summer and brought momentum and belief with them to Dublin.
12 months after they led by 12 points but lost by five, Wasps made no mistake with the sort of result that made a mockery of their status as pool outsiders. The size of the defeat will sting Leinster, but not nearly as much as the manner of it.
The home side were abject yesterday. A province that had won 15 of its previous 20 European openers and claimed three titles simply imploded on their own turf in front of a home crowd that watched the unfolding debacle in a stupefied silence.
It was Leinster’s heaviest loss in Europe since they finished the wrong side of an identical scoreline in Toulouse eight years back. It was also 10 points worse than their previous record defeat at home in this competition — a 27-10 pounding by Leicester way back in 1996.
They may take some solace from the fact that they have lost their European opener at the RDS twice before to English opposition and gone on to reach the semi-finals both times, but Bath and Toulon promise stiffer opposition than was the case in 2006 and 2009.
Leinster will hope that Sean O’Brien, Richardt Strauss and Mike McCarthy — all of whom left the field before the 43rd minute with suspected concussions — will be cleared to face Bath. So, too, Isa Nacewa, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Ben Te’o who sat out yesterday’s meltdown.
“It’s one of the worst days I’ve had being involved with Leinster for a long, long time,” said Cullen after his first European Champions Cup game as head coach, though it was impossible to put a finger on what exactly was the worst aspect of them all.
Cullen rattled off a list of problem areas: general inaccuracies, the concession of at least 16 soft points, experienced players chasing the game instead of building pressure, poor handling and players even running into touch. On and on the roll call of errors went.
Wasps, in comparison, were excellent.
Their Kiwi full-back Charles Piutau earned the man-of-the-match award, but there were standout individual displays on every line of the pitch for them: Elliot Daly at centre, Joe Simpson at scrum-half and Nathan Hughes in the back row among them.
Neither side dominated up front, but Leinster were ponderous with ball in hand and attacks routinely ended because of silly basic errors. Wasps were slick, cutting edge even, and they made inroads much more easily once they fed their electric back line with a modicum of alacrity.
Yet the score that blew the hinges of the game came via an unfortunate slip by Dave Kearney who lost his feet in his own 22 in attempting to gather a Simpson kick.
With speedster Christian Wade behind him, it was the wrong error at the wrong place and wrong time.
Wasps already led 9-6 at that point, but Ruaridh Jackson’s conversion left them 10 points ahead with 10 minutes to go until the interval, which arrived only after Piutau just about failed to launch Wade clear down Leinster’s left-hand side.
Within eight minutes of the restart, the game was beyond the hosts. Frank Halai, another star on the wing, made the initial break in midfield and offloaded to Simpson who ran far quicker than you might expect for a bald man before dotting down by the posts.
Leinster were in a hole and they were clueless as to how to get out.
Bizarre was another word Cullen used to describe the afternoon and that was certainly the case as the next half-an-hour passed without the expected siege or even a hint of intensity. Odd.
Instead, it fell to Wasps to provide the final scores with Sailosi Tagicakibau touching down close to the final whistle and fellow replacement Alex Lozowski adding the conversion from the touchline to leave Leinster on the brink of a European exit. Already.
I Madigan; Z Kirchner, F McFadden, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, J Murphy, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
S Cronin for Strauss (26); J Conan for O’Brien (40); H Triggs for McCarthy (42); C Healy for McGrath, T Furlong for Ross and L McGrath for Reddan (all 48); G Ringrose for Kearney (71).
C Piutau; C Wade, E Daly, B Jacobs, F Halai; R Jackson, J Simpson; M Mullan, C Festuccia, J Cooper-Woolley, J Launchbury, B Davies, S Jones, G Smith, G Hughes.
A Johnson for Festuccia and D Robson for Simpson (both 56); S McIntyre for Mullan and P Swainston for Cooper-Woolley (both 64); J Gaskell for Davies (67); S Tagicakibau for Wade (71).
M Raynal (FFR).
Christian Wade’s try on the half hour carved considerable daylight between the sides on the scoreboard and Leinster never looked like reeling them in. A costly slip from Dave Kearney, all told, though this was an 80-minute meltdown.
Missing the Guinness PRO12 play-offs last season was one thing but facing elimination from Europe after one round of games is quite another. Are Leinster a team in terminal decline or can they turn it around in the ‘Pool of Death?’
So many bloopers to choose from, most notably the moment when Elliott Daly’s penalty fell short, only for Dave Kearney to knock on and Jack Conan play the ball from an offside position, thus giving Daly a second shot from under the posts. Woeful.
Charles Piutau was a class apart at full-back for Wasps. The Kiwi was dangerous with ball in hand, intelligent, dynamic and safe in defence. Bound for Ulster next season, he can’t arrive in Belfast soon enough on this evidence.
Leinster displayed a lack of intensity and a ring-rustiness that can only be partly attributed to the recent return of their international contingent. Ditto for an attack that could only huff and puff all day.
Could possibly have at least threatened the bin for continued transgressions by Wasps in the opening quarter, failed to penalise a few high tackles and the usual complaints were flung his way for his management of the scrum, but this wasn’t about the referee.
Leinster take on Bath at The Rec next Saturday afternoon while Wasps welcome triple-champions Toulon to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry the following evening.