Wasps 51 Leinster 10: Johnny Sexton’s claim he and Leinster had turned a corner ahead of this clash with Wasps came back to haunt him in the most cruel of fashions.
The Ireland talisman had talked-up the chances of Leo Cullen’s side ahead of their trip to the Ricoh Arena and for seven minutes the out-half’s prediction appeared to be true as they ripped into their Aviva Premiership rivals.
But when Sexton was forced off after just eight minutes with a head injury, it proved the beginning of a disastrous afternoon for the visitors which ended with a record Champions Cup defeat.
Before the match Sexton spoke about the physical benefits of being back in Leinster and not having to travel back and forth to Ireland from his previous base in Paris when he was with Racing Metro. But a suspected concussion means he is now a serious doubt for Ireland’s Six Nations opener with Wales in Dublin on February 7.
Sexton’s problems with head injuries are well documented having missed 12 weeks ahead of the last Six Nations due to multiple concussions and Joe Schmidt will be desperate for some good news when the 30-year-old is assessed this week.
Immediately after Saturday’s defeat Cullen played down Sexton’s injury, saying: “He just got a head knock. We’ll get him assessed and see how he is but he’s up and about in the dressing room fine there.”
There was no way Cullen could put a positive spin on the defeat having seen his side be dismantled by a ruthless second-half display from the hosts, which saw them add five tries to the two they had scored before the break.
Leinster had been in the contest at half-time, trailing just 15-10, before producing a second-half performance that encapsulated their entire sorry campaign in this year’s competition.
Cullen added: “We’d started with such good intent and were reasonably happy at half-time but we made such a poor start to the second-half and had too many errors. It was very similar to how we had played in the home game, you would have thought we would have learned some lessons but we obviously couldn’t. But credit to Wasps, they were ruthless and we couldn’t compete.”
There is no doubt the loss of Sexton following a clash of heads with former teammate Brendan Macken played a huge part, as England flanker James Haskell was quick to admit. Haskell said: “It’s not rocket science, if you watch Leinster everything goes through Johnny Sexton and he is such an influential player. When he’s on form he is devastating. You never want to see a player get injured but there was a huge sigh of relief when he went off.”
What’s worrying for Leinster and Cullen is the defeat came after he had recalled the majority of his senior players, making 11 changes from the team who beat Bath as they tried to salvage a result from a dismal campaign. The momentum Cullen craved was there in the opening minutes when Leinster moved the ball from one side of the field to the other to put Zane Kirchner in the corner. Wasps hit back when former Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth got away from Rhys Ruddock to go over before the excellent Joe Launchbury scored their second try. Leinster stayed in the game with a second try through Eoin Reddan after excellent work by Dave Kearney but the second half turned into a blood-bath as Wasps ran riot with five tries.
Eliot Daly showed why he is being tipped to start for England in their Six Nations opener in Scotland with a stunning burst of pace to get their third and a penalty try eight minutes later wrapped-up the bonus point. Scores for Frank Halai and Charles Piutau, arguably the two signings of the season in the Aviva Premiership, took the game away from Leinster and the rout was completed by a try from replacement Ashley Johnson with a couple of minutes left in the clock.
It took Wasps to the top of pool five, the so-called ‘pool of death’, ahead of Toulon after they failed to pick up a bonus point in their narrow win 19-14 win over Bath at the Recreation Ground.
Leinster prop-up the rest of the pool with just five points after only one win, leaving them with one of the lowest points totals by an Irish province in European rugby.
Scorers for Wasps:
Tries: Daly, Gopperth, Halai, Johnson, Launchbury, Piutau, Penalty try Cons: Gopperth 4, Jackson Pens: Gopperth 2
Tries: Kirchner, Reddan.
C Piutau; J Bassett, E Daly (R Miller 66), B Macken, F Halai; J Gopperth (R Jackson 66), J Simpson (D Robson 5); M Mullan (T Bristow 66), E Shirvington, L Cittadini; J Launchbury (J Gaskell 63), B Davies; J Haskell (capt), G Smith, S Jones.
R Kearney; Z Kirchner, L Fitzgerald, N Reid (B Te’o 62), D Kearney; J Sexton (c) (C Marsh 8), E Reddan (I Boss 76); J McGrath, S Cronin (R Strauss 62), M Moore (M Bent 62); D Toner, R Ruddock; D Ryan (R Molony 71), J Murphy (van der Flier 40), J Heaslip.
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