Leinster continue to mix the bad with the good, but they managed just enough of the latter to pull away from a game Wasps side last night and claim a first-up victory in their maiden Rugby Champions Cup outing.
The opening six weeks to the season had seen the province win three games and lose as many again and that inability to find a consistent rhythm was apparent last night in a game they, at times, did their best to throw away.
A litany of errors in the first-half allowed the Aviva Premiership side build up a 20-8 advantage at one point but — credit where it is due – the three-times champions turned it around after the break by crossing the whitewash twice and keeping Wasps scoreless.
It wasn’t the type of performance to eliminate the early-season doubts but, with almost a dozen key players missing through injury right now, there was at least a case to be made for the character of the team in scrambling out of their self-made pit.
Leinster were particularly stretched in the front and back rows but they stood up to a heralded Wasps pack and more, with the trio of Jamie Heaslip, Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock clocking in with enormous shifts.
Heaslip stood out above all with the most carries (23) and tackles (12).
The evening looked promising early on with Wasps captain and flanker James Haskell ruled out at the last minute with flu and the home side stringing together a promising move in their first attack which ended with an Ian Madigan penalty.
Wasps out-half Andy Goode was a calming and authoritative presence and he kicked the sides level after Leinster scrambled illegally to repair the damage of an overthrown lineout from Sean Cronin. Goode doubled the measure 22 minutes in when Ruddock was pinged at a ruck and Leinster’s worrying habit of harming themselves continued a minute later when Alapati Leiua intercepted a Noel Reid pass in midfield and ran 70 metres for the first try. A Goode conversion later and the first murmurs of alarm were surrounding the RDS, but only for an instant as a thrust through midfield by Heaslip ended with Jimmy Gopperth grubbing through a kick for Darragh Fanning to touch down.
But Wasps weren’t done.
Leinster continued to live dangerously, with replacement full-back Rob Miller burning Michael Bent for a midfield line break and Elliott Daly almost touching down after another intercept of a loose Leinster pass around the middle. Further damage came in the form of a less defensible piece of magic from wing Christian Wade who, with space at a premium along the touchline, picked up a loose ball outside Leinster’s 22 and left Madigan, Fanning and Zane Kirchner for dead to tip down. Goode’s conversion was at least cancelled out by Madigan’s penalty before the sides went in at the break with Wasps leading 20-11 and the next ten minutes didn’t suggest Leinster had the nous to turn the game around.
What changed it was one simple block down from Devin Toner on a kick from Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson on 52 minutes: the consequence of it being a handful of line breaks from Cronin, Madigan and Toner himself with Fanning diving over for a second.
Wasps had looked comfortable in the opening phases of the second-half, but they faded perceptibly from there on in and it was symbolised most obviously by Goode whose kicks began to fade and with one at the posts after 57 minutes being particularly costly. Leinster finally reclaimed the lead for the first time in almost 50 minutes soon after when a cannonball run from Cronin through the Wasps midfield was consolidated by a couple of short bursts out left before Dominic Ryan just about got over.
There were another 20 minutes still on the clock at that point but the race was run. Wasps failed to mount anything like a retort while Kirchner had two half-chances to claim a fourth try and bonus point but got caught short each time.
In truth, they wouldn’t have deserved it.
Neither would Wasps.
Devin Toner slapping down Joe Simpson’s kick on the halfway line 52 minutes in set up Darragh Fanning’s second try and turned the game in Leinster’s favour after a shaky first-half.
Talk of the town
The tannoy guy. ‘Risteard’ Strauss and the RDS being the home of Leinster ‘football’ were just in a catalogue of comments that had the crowd entertained throughout the evening.
No major worries for Leinster who hope to have Rob Kearney and Mike Ross available next week. Wasps expect to have Joe Launchbury back after he limped off with a hamstring injury last night.
Best on show
Jamie Heaslip got the nod for a huge evening’s work but we’ll beg to differ: stand up Darragh Fanning who has come from the AIL this calendar year to score two tries on his European debut.
Leighton Hodges was, ahem, lax on the forward pass rule and the Welshman seemed content to let both sides scramble for longer than usual at the breakdown than usual, which is no bad thing. Penalties conceded: Leinster 9: Wasps 8
Leinster travel to France to take on Castres at Stade Pierre Antoine. Wasps hosts Harlequins at Adams Park. Both are on Sunday. LEINSTER: I Madigan; Z Kirchner, G D’Arcy, N Reid, D Fanning; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Bent; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip.
Replacements: K Douglas for McCarthy (48); I Boss for Reddan (63); T Furlong for Bent, R Strauss for Cronin (both 66).
WASPS: A Masi; C Wade, E Daly, A Leiua, S Tagicakibau; A Goode, J Simpson; M Mullan, C Festuccia, L Cittadini; J Launchbury, B Davies; A Johnson, G Thompson, N Hughes.
Replacements: S Jones for Thompson (42); J Cooper-Whoolley for Cittadini (63); J Gaskell for Davies, C Bell for Goode (both 64); S McIntyre for Mullan (72); T Lindsay for Festuccia (76).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).
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