Leo Cullen’s men began their Heineken Champions Cup defence with a brilliant eight-try win.
Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS
WHEN YOU’VE GOT a tighthead who is as graceful as Tadhg Furlong is in the wide channels, your team is always going to be an attacking force.
When you’ve got an out-half like Johnny Sexton who mixes composed control with delicious between-the-legs passes, your side will always have poise and incisiveness.
With a wing like James Lowe, whose blockbusting moments get supporters standing and even giggling with glee, you are going to score tries.
A loosehead who leaves defenders in his wake, a hooker who can skin backs, second rows who match aggression with timing and skill, a back row that works tirelessly, a scrum-half whose support lines are world-class, a centre pairing whose constant influence varies between quiet and shouting-out-loud, and back three players who leave little in the way of inviting grass for opposition kickers.
When the back-up to these players is similarly high-quality, you are deserved European favourites.
Leinster have all of the above and the opening match of their Heineken Champions Cup defence underlined exactly why many people are backing them to lift the title again in Newcastle next May.
Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s side had some first-half frustrations against Wasps but built a 14-3 half-time lead and then proceeded to tear the Premiership side apart in a thrilling second-half performance.
They ended with eight tries, man of the match Lowe and scrum-half Luke McGrath grabbing a brace each and Sean Cronin, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw and Jack McGrath also dotting down in a stunning performance.
Wasps barely fired a shot in truth, and Toulouse – where Leinster travel next weekend – may be feeling some trepidation about taking on Cullen’s men next. The rest of Europe have been warned – Leinster mean business in their quest for a fifth star.
They started strongly, scoring through Cronin as early as the sixth minute, the hooker taking advantage of James Gaskell vacating the pillar position at the edge of a ruck to pick and sneak through, his pace taking him past final defender Willie le Roux.
Sexton added the straightforward conversion and though it appeared ominous for Wasps, they settled into the game defensively and forced errors from Leinster even as Cullen’s side dominated possession and territory.
Lima Sopoaga put the visitors on the scoreboard with a penalty after a handful of Leinster players were caught offside in midfield.
The defending champions endured frustration with their 75% share of possession and almost 80% territory for much of the remainder of the half.
Loosehead Healy knocked-on within metres of the Wasps’ tryline from a poor McGrath pass on the 23rd phase of a passage that included impressive carries from Cronin, Rhys Ruddock – a late starter in place of the injured Dan Leavy – and Sexton.
The exciting Lowe manufactured a big linebreak after Rob Kearney took a quick lineout in Leinster’s half in the 30th minute, the left wing opting to pass back inside to Sexton after the bust only to see his out-half knock-on in the tackle of le Roux from behind. Robbie Henshaw had been screaming for a long pass or kick to Lowe’s right.
Henshaw himself was next to get behind Wasps, accepting a deft offload from the classy Garry Ringrose and striding into the opposition half. He had McGrath running a clever support line inside and only needed to draw in le Roux, but instead backed himself.
Le Roux again put the Leinster man to ground and though Ruddock made a sublime pick-up of Henshaw’s offload, Wasps openside Thomas Young turned Leinster over after a Furlong carry a few phases later.
It appeared that Leinster would have to settle for the one try in the opening half, but a quick tap by McGrath just outside their own 22 sparked one final chance.
The Irish province shifted the ball wide left and though Cronin’s pass to extra man Lowe looked to be forward, referee Romain Poite sin-binned Sopoaga for slapping the ball down as the Leinster hooker looked to release Lowe.
Leinster went up the line and – via a scrappy lineout – built more pressure until Henshaw’s superb right-to-left double skip pass sent Lowe scampering up the left touchline to within five metres.
Furlong carried hard off the recycle and McGrath sniped from the resulting ruck, darting to his right and inside Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor to score with the clock in the red at 42.45, allowing Sexton to convert for a 14-3 lead at the break.
It took exactly one minute for Leinster to get their third after the interval, Wasps kicking the restart straight into touch and giving Leinster the platform to strike.
Sexton pulled a pass back to Henshaw, who dropped a sharp pass of his own back inside to Lowe, who burst past Taylor just inside the Wasps half and then confidently backed himself, stepping le Roux and taking advantage of Kearney getting in front of Daly, before fending the England wing and finishing a superb score.
Sexton converted for a third time and the bonus point was within touching distance.
It duly arrived in stunning fashion through McGrath. With Leinster attacking from inside their own half, Sexton looped off Toner and found tighthead Furlong wide on the left.
The Ireland and Lions prop showed his remarkable skillset by sidestepping to the outside shoulder of Wasps wing Josh Bassett, drawing in edge defender Sopoaga and offloading to Lowe.
The Kiwi wing strode down the left at full tilt and fed a simple pass back inside to the hard-working McGrath for his second try, again converted by Sexton.
Bonus point secured in the 53rd minute, Cullen was able to use his entire bench before the 70th and though the initial changes resulted in a brief easing off, the magic soon returned.
James Ryan won a lineout on the Wasps throw, then his dynamic carry and offload to McGrath broke the Wasps defence. Leinster recycled to the left and Sexton threw a sublime between-the-legs pass to Henshaw, who drew in final defender Ashley Johnson and passed to give Lowe an easy finish in the left corner.
Sexton’s accuracy off the tee continued with a conversion for 35-3 but Leinster were far from finished.
Larmour scored from a beautifully-disguised pullback pass from replacement out-half Ross Byrne, then a long pass wide to the left by Larmour freed Ringrose to break up the touchline and feed inside for Henshaw to finish.
There was still time for sub loosehead Jack McGrath to score at the back of a Leinster maul, capping off a truly impressive display by the champions.
Tries: Sean Cronin, Luke McGrath , James Lowe , Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Jack McGrath
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [5 from 5], Ross Byrne [1 from 3]
Penalties: Lima Sopoaga [1 from 1]
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney (Joe Tomane ’55); Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’70), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’63); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ‘HT), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’56), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’56); Devin Toner (Scott Fardy ’64), James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier (Sean O’Brien ’57), Jack Conan.
WASPS: Willie Le Roux (Rob Miller ’78); Josh Bassett, Juan de Jongh, Michael Le Bourgeois, Elliot Daly (captain); Lima Sopoaga (yellow card ’41) (Billy Searle ’78), Joe Simpson (Craig Hampson ’76); Zurabi Zhvania (Ben Harris ’54), Tommy Taylor (Tom Cruse ’59), Kieran Brookes (Will Stuart ’54); Will Rowlands (Kearnan Myall ’59), James Gaskell; Brad Shields, Thomas Young, Nizaam Carr (Ashley Johnson ’59).
Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].
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