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Sexton's struggles, quiet leaders and more talking points from Leinster's loss

Leinster were well beaten on an individual and collective basis at the RDS.

LEINSTER WERE BEATEN 33-6 by Wasps in their Champions Cup Pool 5 opener at the RDS this afternoon.

Read our match report here.

Sexton struggles

Johnny Sexton’s first European game back in Leinster colours after two season away, and supporters could be forgiven for expecting something strong from the Ireland out-half. Instead, the 30-year-old looked a shadow of the player we know he can be.

Jonathan Sexton dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sexton’s World Cup was ended by what Ireland termed as a groin strain, but having come through 62 minutes against the Scarlets last weekend it had seemed the playmaker was set to remind Leinster fans of his quality.

His kicking throughout was erratic, however. His restart after Joe Simpson’s try flew directly into touch, while the failure to find touch with a penalty on the 53-minute mark was uncharacteristic.

When Leinster needed composure, leadership, actions and confidence most, the man many would expect to deliver those things came up short. If Leo Cullen’s men are going to save their European season, they will need far more from their big summer signing.

Lack of edge all round

Pointing the finger at Sexton alone would be as inaccurate as Leinster’s performance, given the number of poor individual displays at the RDS. Cullen will take some of the flak, but he was let down by an XV filled with international players.

Dave Kearney and Sam Jones Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Concentration, aggression, communication: those are minimum requirements for most rugby teams but Leinster couldn’t deliver on those things against a determined and hungry Wasps team.

The back row of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Jordi Murphy and then Jack Conan struggled badly against Wasps’ excellent trio led by Nathan Hughes. Ruaridh Jackson bettered Sexton, Joe Simpson was the best scrum-half on the pitch, the battle of the back threes wasn’t really a contest.

All over the park, Leinster were outperformed. Collectively, one side was clearly superior.

Leadership question marks

One of the key elements in any team operating competently is the ability to bounce back from errors with conviction. Leinster were unable to do that in the key moments against Dai Young’s Wasps.

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Jamie Heaslip speaks to the press after the game Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

There was a malaise to the performance as a whole, almost a lethargy when it was so apparent that Leinster needed a high-octane response to Wasps’ dangerous attacking capability.

Leaders are relied upon to set the example, but after Jamie Heaslip replaced Isa Nacewa as captain in the hours before this Champions Cup tie, it didn’t happen for the eastern province.

There seemed to be few men putting their hands up for imposing carries, to burst up in defence and make a truly impactful tackle, or slide an accurate kick behind Wasps to gain field position.

Instead, Leinster compounded errors with errors and allowed the English side to power to a dominant victory, one that might have been topped with a bonus point but for a poor Charles Piutau pass to Christian Wade on the stroke of half time.

Pool 5

Speaking post-match, Leo Cullen pointed out that Wasps lost both of their opening pool games in last season’s Champions Cup and still managed to advance into the quarter-finals.

Indeed, the Premiership outfit also drew one of their remaining four games in the group.

Joe Simpson celebrates his try with Ben Jacobs Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster will maintain belief that they can still advance into the knock-out stages of this competition after overcoming what they might view as a freakish blip, but building optimism on the outside of the squad will be difficult.

A trip to Bath awaits on Saturday, an even more difficult proposition than today on paper. Mike Ford’s men tormented Leinster in last season’s quarter-final, but the Irishmen will take confidence from having overcome that test.

Thereafter, Leinster are looking at back-to-back ties with holders Toulon in December, when the Top 14 outfit will have most of their world-class stars fit and firing again, including the brilliant Ma’a Nonu.

There will be no throwing in of the towel at this very early stage, but Leinster have to get everything right from here on in. 

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Murray Kinsella

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