It’s been so long since Wasps carried a truly venomous sting in their tail it seems slightly surreal to recall the soon-to-be Coventry club remain the last English winners of European rugby’s biggest prize.
Seven years, a couple of new addresses and an ocean of water have passed under the bridge since 2007 and it says something of their more modest recent surroundings this is their first shot at the bigger Euro event since 2010/11. Relegation and bankruptcy have been flirted with in the intervening years and yet they have defied a busted business model that was losing them £3m a season to qualify for the inaugural Champions Cup with Leinster at the RDS their first stop.
With their future seemingly secured by the imminent switch north, in December, Wasps proceeded to produce a superb 65 minutes at Adams Park against Bath, storming into a 29-0 lead before fading and limping home 29-22.
“They have put together a very good squad,” said Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor. “The people behind the scenes have obviously got a plan to continue to drive that forward in relation to the finances so they can continue to have a quality squad.”
His opposite number, Dai Young, fields a vastly experienced half-back combination of Andy Goode and Joe Simpson and that pair will aim to maximise the pace of Christian Wade and poise of Elliott Daly into play.
Feeding all of them is something of a monstrous pack led by James Haskell in the back row with the superb England lock Joe Launchbury returning and providing a consistent supply of ball.
Leinster have taken note.
“They are a very good pack,” said Jamie Heaslip. “They have a good mix of strong ball carriers in that pack and then you have a good 10 (Goode) who runs the show for them, good passers in the back line who can get the ball to with serious gas in the back three.
“So, to negate all that we have to meet that pack on the gain line and win the majority of the collisions, be that with or without the ball. Setpiece will be a big one, they have a very strong scrum and they like the maul as well.”
Leinster present themselves with a mixed bag of an early season form: three wins and the same amount of losses in the Guinness PRO12 serving as an accurate indicator of their form.
Injuries haven’t helped and O’Connor sat down to name a team this week minus the services of at least 11 players who may have started. Mike Ross was among them thanks to a minor groin injury picked up earlier this week.
With Martin Moore already absent, that leaves the heavily-criticised Michael Bent at tight head. It is a similarly big day for others dotted around the side as Leinster continue to adapt to life without some of the men who made their name.
For Dominic Ryan, who has suffered with injuries, it is a first European appearance in three seasons. For Zane Kirchner and Bent it marks a maiden European start and, for Reid and Fanning, a first step onto the European stage. The knock-on effect is a bench light on stardust, although the sight of Luke Fitzgerald’s name on the replacement’s list is a welcome one given his interminable injury problems. Should he play, it will be a first appearance since March. Eoin Reddan has always signposted the dangers of meeting English opponents so early in Europe, reasoning their earlier start to the season gives them an edge, and Leinster have indeed struggled in this scenario in the past.
Exeter Chiefs were robbed of at least a draw in a 9-6 loss in Dublin two years ago and London Irish ransacked the RDS with a 12-9 win back in 2007. Neither were top ranking Premiership sides – nor are Wasps. The visitors look capable and carry some intent, but if Leinster fall to them at the first hurdle it will suggest a decline far more advanced than any suspected. They shouldn’t. Leinster still boast enough class and know-how to get the job done.
- The clubs have faced each other three times in the Heineken Cup, with Wasps coming out on top in two.
- Leinster have lost just three of their last 29 home games in the tournament.
- If selected, Leinster’s Gordon D’Arcy will make his 99th appearance in Europe’s leading club tournament.
- Only Steve Borthwick of Saracens (36) won more lineouts in the Heineken Cup last season than Devin Toner (29), with the latter playing two games fewer.
- Wasps’ James Haskell won 15 turnovers in the Challenge Cup last season – four more than the next highest player.
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