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Leinster set up European quarter-final against Ulster with powerful win at Wasps

Leo Cullen’s men notched a bonus point win to set up an intriguing knock-out in March.

Wasps 19

Leinster 37

Murray Kinsella reports from the Ricoh Arena 

THERE WAS NEVER any doubt that Leinster would seal their spot as Pool 1 winners in Coventry and, in doing so, they have set up an intriguing Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Ulster at the end of March.

With the Irish provinces having avoided each other in the knock-out stages of Europe since the 2012 final between Leinster and Ulster, this clash is sure to whet the appetite of both sets of supporters.

The conclusion of Pool 1 today means the full quarter-final lineup is confirmed: Munster travel to Edinburgh, Saracens host Glasgow, and Toulouse are away to Racing 92.

Garry Ringrose scores a try Garry Ringrose scored Leinster's first try in Coventry. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster’s bonus-point win over Wasps ensured they advance as third seeds, behind Saracens and Racing 92, and while there were a couple of frustrations for Leo Cullen’s side at the Ricoh Arena, they also underlined their quality for long passages of the game.

Certainly, Ulster will have to move onto another level if they are to upset Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in the quarter-finals.

If Leinster can overcome their inter-provincial rivals, they will either travel to Racing 92 or host Toulouse in the semi-finals, depending on the outcome of that quarter-final. 

Leinster’s ability to pressure and stifle opposition is a strength, with Cullen and Stuart Lancaster having built a team that is comfortable with handling the ball for long spells, possesses real set-piece quality and is also capable of breaking out with individual skill.

Their defensive effort against Wasps will leave the coaching team with some focus for improvement but, having put themselves under pressure by losing to Toulouse in October, to advance as winners of Pool 1 with a home quarter-final to look forward to is satisfying.

Sean O’Brien was catapulted into the starting team before kick-off in Coventry, as Jack Conan withdrew with a shoulder issue, and delivered a sharp performance that was sullied only by a soak tackle on Nathan Hughes for the Wasps number eight’s try.

The Tullow man played 56 minutes in his first appearance since breaking his arm while playing for Ireland against Argentina in November, before making way for Max Deegan.

Sean O'Brien with Gaby Lovobalavu Sean O'Brien looked sharp on his return from injury. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Brien’s ball-carrying and ruck work was strong throughout and, having named him in his Six Nations squad, Joe Schmidt will have been encouraged.

The same goes for Robbie Henshaw, back in Leinster’s number 12 shirt following his recovery from the hamstring injury he suffered before that Argentina fixture.

Henshaw was similarly impressive on his 61-minute return, consistently making dents in Wasps’ defence and linking well with Ross Byrne – again standing in for the injured Johnny Sexton at 10 – and Garry Ringrose.

Another player who may have piqued Schmidt’s interest was Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, who qualifies for Ireland in June and showed decision-making quality at the Ricoh Arena as he took the place of the injured Luke McGrath.

Sean Cronin scored a brace of tries at the back of a superb Leinster maul, with second row James Ryan as influential as ever and Devin Tonter calling the lineout intelligently.

Wasps, though they scored three tries through Hughes, Dan Robson and Marcus Watson, were disappointing again and limp on in a challenging season. The Premiership club’s supporters did at least take some pleasure from booing England coach Eddie Jones when he flashed up on the big screen in the first half. 

Eddie Jones at the game England boss Eddie Jones was booed by the Wasps fans. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Leinster missed a couple of good early chances with numbers-up on the left edge but intelligent grubber kicking from Henshaw and Jordan Larmour kept Wasps pinned back in their own 22.

Losing captain and lock Joe Launchbury to injury in the 10th minute didn’t help the hosts, just before Henshaw and O’Brien carried well and then Ringrose’s offload freed O’Brien to charge in behind Wasps, who conceded an offside penalty as they scrambled.

Byrne slotted three points from the tee to open the scoring and was soon converting Leinster’s first try as Ringrose used his footwork close to the tryline to step back inside Hughes and dot down to the left of the posts.

Wasps did briefly come alive with ball in hand in response, Michele Campagnaro bouncing Ringrose in the Leinster 22 but replacement lock Will Matthews knocked-on metres out from the tryline on the next phase.

Dai Young’s charges simply couldn’t keep possession in an error-strewn showing and Byrne punished them off the tee with a second penalty when they failed to roll away post-tackle.

The English side’s discipline was damaging for them and another penalty allowed Leinster to kick into the left corner, from where captain Rhys Ruddock claimed the lineout and his pack formed a beautifully cohesive maul around him, allowing hooker Cronin to dot down, with Byrne converting for a 20-0 half-time lead. 

Dan Robson with Jamison Gibson-Park Jamison Gibson-Park was impressive for Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Wasps emerged from the break to pressure Leinster early in the second half but initially couldn’t find the finishing touch as Ruddock stripped Elliot Daly in a tackle, minutes before fullback Rob Miller threw a poor pass wide to Daly on the left, resulting in a knock-on.

They did, however, finally blast over for a try in the 53rd minute as number eight Hughes powered through O’Brien’s tackle under the posts to score, with Lima Sopoaga converting.

A host of changes on both sides briefly took the momentum out of the game but Leinster soon had a third try as another Wasps penalty allowed them into the right corner, with the maul forming around Ryan this time and Cronin bagging his second score of the day.

Byrne maintained his 100% record off the tee from wide on the right but Leinster would have been extremely frustrated to then concede again, as Wasps scrum-half Robson – part of Eddie Jones’ England squad – dummied and sniped inside sub tighthead Andrew Porter to streak away, Sopoaga again converting.

Leinster’s bonus-point try arrived in the 69th minute as Deegan offloaded to Rory O’Loughlin and he passed back inside for Noel Reid – just on the pitch as a HIA replacement for Byrne – to finish a sweeping move that he converted himself.

There was still time for Wasps to notch a third try and ensure Leinster have plenty to work on, with sub Marcus Watson crossing in the left corner.  

Wasps scorers:

Tries: Nathan Hughes, Dan Robson, Marcus Watson

Conversions: Lima Sopoaga [2 from 2], Billy Searle [0 from 1]

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose, Sean Cronin [2], Noel Reid

Conversions: Ross Byrne [3 from 3], Noel Reid [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [2 from 2], Noel Reid [1 from 1]

WASPS: Rob Miller (Marcus Watson ’65); Josh Bassett, Michele Campagnaro, Gaby Lovobalavu, Elliot Daly; Lima Sopoaga (Billy Searle ’65), Dan Robson (Craig Hampson ’71); Zurabi Zhvania (Ben Harris ’56), Tom Cruse, Jake Cooper-Woolley (Will Stuart ’58); Joe Launchbury (captain) (Charlie Matthews ’10), Will Rowlands (James Gaskell ’72); Ben Morris, Nizaam Carr, Nathan Hughes (Ashley Johnson ’60).

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Rory O’Loughlin ’62), Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne (Noel Reid ’66), Jamison Gibson-Park (Hugh O’Sullivan ’74); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’45), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’66), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’54); Devin Toner (Scott Fardy ’54), James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (captain), Josh van der Flier, Sean O’Brien (Max Deegan ’56). 

Referee: Mike Adamson [SRU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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