The parallels were uncanny. The heightened anticipation leading into the game, the drizzly, blustery conditions, the turbo-charged Irish start and the English pretensions to greatness left in tatters at the Aviva Stadium.
After England two weeks ago, it was Wasps’ turn to experience the Dublin doldrums. The déjà vu would have been particularly uncomfortable for the club’s England contingent of Joe Launchbury, James Haskell, Nathan Hughes and Elliot Daly, especially as they walked straight into the same bear-trap.
Just as Ireland started at a tempo that England failed to match in their 13-9 defeat so Leinster – featuring 10 players from that encounter – tore into Wasps with a ferocious intensity that they never recovered from.
Lacking their customary platform up front there was a cascade of individual errors by the backs – although there was no excuse for South African full-back Willie Le Roux dropping the ball in the course of diving over the line.
“Disappointing,” was the verdict of Dai Young, the Wasps director of rugby with the expression of a man asked to down a pint of two-day-old Guinness. It was a word he repeated throughout his analysis of the match, especially in relation to the tries scored by Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw in six minutes before half-time, both off first phase. You suspect that Young reached for a stronger adjective behind closed doors.
Leinster feasted upon those mistakes. Even if Wasps rallied from 25-3 down to close to within eight points after individual scores by Christian Wade and Jimmy Gopperth in the second half, Leinster never relinquished control of the match, confirming their victory through Fergus McFadden’s late try. Their reward is now a semi-final against Clermont Auvergne in Lyon.
Wasps, meanwhile, must ensure defeat, however jarring, does not derail the remainder of their season. They remain top of the Aviva Premiership and two victories should be enough to seal a home semi-final in the play-offs.
“It’s tough to take. You get to these games and work so hard to get here you always want to showcase what you can do and showcase your performance and try to put your best game out there,” Launchbury, the captain, said. “Playing here and the occasion of playing in as front of as many people as we did today is new for a lot of our squad. It’s new territory but I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. We prepared well all week and knew exactly what was coming.
“We are obviously sitting where we are in the league at the moment and it would be disappointing now to slip out of those top two and get an away semi-final. Our focus over the next few weeks is to get back to domestic and try to get that home semi. It is up to us and the coaching department and the senior players to make sure we use this as a positive not a negative and make sure we come in hungry.”
It is worth repeating that Wasps’ many failings were a result of Leinster’s unyielding pressure in attack and defence. Conan, filling in at No 8 for the injured Jamie Heaslip, and openside Sean O’Brien were relentless as ball-carriers and a constant nuisance at the breakdown.
O’Brien, who had a quiet Six Nations, propelled himself firmly back into the Lions equation. So too the centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, who offer a bewitching blend of power and poise.
Wasps’ hopefuls must rely on the Six Nations form. Yet the most eye-catching performance was delivered by Joey Carbery. The 21 year-old started at full-back to offer an alternative first receiver option to Jonathan Sexton and so effective was the combination that Warren Gatland must surely give real thought to reprising it in New Zealand.
Carbery was the creator of Leinster’s opening two tries, the first a superb miss-pass to Isa Nacewa and the second out of nothing from a kick return. Like Sexton, Carbery takes the ball to the line and both men were caught by late shots.
Afterwards Leo Cullen, the Leinster head coach, seemed to criticise referee Nigel Owens for failing to protect his players. “It’s definitely something referees need to keep in mind, because it’s easy for a defender to commit to a tackle, knowing that he’s committed, but he knows that he’s not going to tackle the man before he gets the pass away,” Cullen said.
“It’s one of those grey areas, but Johnny is definitely the recipient on that.”