This was Leinster’s biggest ever home Heineken Cup defeat. In this post I will discuss some of the main talking points of the match.
Leinster gave more players to the world cup squad than perhaps any other club team in Europe. In the final game against Argentina, the Irish matchday 23 contained 14 Leinster players. This means that returning players have had very little time to acclimatise to Leinster’s playing style and combinations. Cullen would have known that so many players would be missing when he starting his coaching role, but it seems that unlike the other provinces, he has been given an extremely difficult task of coping with essentially his first choice 15 being missing for the beginning of the season. The lack of playing time together revealed itself on Sunday, with players appearing unaware of certain moves and dropping forced passes.
Lack of Cutting Edge:
Leinster appeared to lack the cutting edge to get scores when it really mattered. On at least 3 occasions, Leinster were camped inside the Wasp’s 22 and knocked on close to the line. Credit has to be given to Wasp’s defence who committed few to the breakdown area and instead negated Leinster’s threat out wide. Leinster at times seemed to be content to shift the ball from one flank to the other without making any serious ground in the process. Although it appeared to be fast-flowing and creative rugby, Wasps never looked too troubled by Leinster’s attacks. Leinster under Cheika and Schmidt played the same brand of exciting rugby but could revert to more forward orientated, Plan-B rugby when that style was working. With a forward pack boasting all Ireland internationals, I couldn’t help wondering if this approach should have been attempted.
Sexton and Kearney:
It is perhaps a little unfair to single out just two players, when on the day the whole team didn’t perform to their usual standards. But Sexton and Kearney both had days to forget. Sexton, who is usually a calm head in pressure situations seemed to implode with the pressure. When Leinster were forced to chase the game, he twice messed up kicks to the corner, which would have allowed a maul and potential scoring opportunity. He also kicked a restart straight out into touch after Wasps scored one of their trys. Dave Kearney had a similar afternoon to forget. Although he started the game brilliantly, he made the mistake that gifted Wasps their first try. He panicked trying to field a clearance from Wasps and slipped, allowing Wade to stroll over unopposed. Later in the game he knocked on a penalty attempt from Wasps, although he had plenty of time and no pressure to collect the ball. Thankfully both of these players are world class and they will bounce back, but on a day where leaders were required to steady the ship, they both seemed to crumble.
Finally it is easy to criticise Leinster, but at the end of the day, Wasps played brilliantly and were the better and sharper team. When they got the ball to their back 3, they looked incredibly dangerous. Their game plan was excellent, they were comfortable defending wave after wave of Leinster attacks, and were clinical on the counter. They made 2 of their 3 tries look so simple and by right they could have had at least one more try if the ball had gone to hand. In the second half, their tactics were spot on, they just kicked the ball in the corners, making Leinster play from deep, and then punished any mistake that we made. On the day they were beaten by the better team.