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Dublin: 2°C Friday 16 April 2021

'It was a very bleak dressing room after... It was just so quiet'

Three seasons ago, Leinster were hammered twice by Wasps in Europe.

IT’S ALMOST DIFFICULT to believe now, but three seasons ago Leinster lost five of their six Heineken Champions Cup pool games and exited the competition at the bottom of their group.

So much has changed since that 2015/16 campaign, of course, but in the same week that Wasps come to Dublin, memories of the two comprehensive beatings Leo Cullen’s side suffered at the hands of the Premiership club that season come to mind.

Luke McGrath and teammates dejected after the game Leinster suffered at the hands of Wasps at the RDS three seasons ago. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster were already finished by the time they were hammered 51–10 at the Ricoh Arena in the final round of pool fixtures, but the more hurtful of the losses came at home in the RDS in the opening round.

Having managed only two penalties from the boot of Johnny Sexton, Leinster limped to a 33-6 defeat, as Wasps took them apart and underlined how far off the European pace the Irish province were at that time.

“It was a very bleak dressing room after it,” recalls Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath, who came off the bench for his second European appearance that day in November 2015.

“It was just so quiet in the changing room. Leo spoke about our standards. Whatever about losing on that score, just in the RDS where we have such a great home run at the moment, that was a very difficult thing to take.

“It was such a bad start. I remember we talked about going to Bath the next week and having to win that game.  We nearly won it at the end but we didn’t put out a great performance [in losing 19-16]. 

“We were just always backtracking then and we had Toulon back-to-back. We were just chasing the whole thing.”

After four defeats in a row, Cullen opted to mix things up when Bath visited the RDS in January 2016 and that 25-11 victory proved to be something of a turning point for the province.

McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Garry Ringrose, Ross Molony, James Tracy and Peter Dooley made their first European starts and were the driving force behind a momentum-boosting victory for Leinster.

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Rhys Ruddock, Devin Toner, Eoin Reddan and Jordi Murphy dejected after conceding a try 2015/16 was a tough European season for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That was massive in giving us the belief to move on and improve and a lot of those lads were significant towards the end of last year,” says McGrath.

“That game was incredible for us young lads but if you look at the bigger picture, that was the only game we won that year.

“We definitely got humbled that year. Hopefully, it never happens again.” 

McGrath, Furlong and Ringrose are now crucial parts of the Leinster team, while Tracy, Molony and Dooley are also important squad members, meaning Cullen did make some long-term gains from that miserable European campaign.

A year later, with Stuart Lancaster having joined, Leinster topped their pool and reached the semi-finals of the European competition as more young talent emerged, culminating in last season’s remarkable double.

While Leinster don’t spend time thinking back to the situation they were in three seasons ago, they do remind themselves that the achievements of last season mean very little as this dangerous Wasps outfit gets set for Friday night’s clash in Dublin.

“They won’t fear coming to the RDS, so that’s a massive factor,” says McGrath.

“We know the threats they have all around the park, [Lima] Sopoaga’s going really well for them, [Willie] le Roux could come back into the frame, so the experience they have, especially off turnover and attack. We’ll have to have a big defensive display.” 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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