Leinster zip past Wasps in Champions Cup as Joey Carbery impresses

Paul Rees at the Aviva Stadium
Leinster’s Joey Carbery goes past Kurtley Beale, of Wasps, during the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Paul Walsh/Action Plus via Getty Images

Leinster made April fools of Wasps in a meeting of the league leaders that was so one-sided it looked more like top against bottom. Just as England had been knocked out of their stride here two weeks ago, so Wasps needed more time than they were given by opponents they comfortably defeated twice last season. After providing three semi-finalists last season, England will supply no more than one this year and if Saracens defeat Glasgow they will face Munster here.

It may have been different had the wing Willie le Roux not lost control of the ball as he finished off a counter-attack after 23 minutes, when his side trailed 8-0 having started somnolently. It was the first time Leinster had slipped off tackles as Jimmy Gopperth fielded a kick near his 22, wriggled away from Garry Ringrose and freed Kurtley Beale who, on an otherwise undistinguished afternoon for the Australian, eluded three tacklers to give Le Roux what should have been the simple task of touching down.

Le Roux dived for the line and it was only when the incident was replayed on the big screen that it became clear he had dropped, rather than grounded, the ball. Gopperth had put the ball on the tee and was about to take the conversion when the referee, Nigel Owens, stopped him to order a review. If Le Roux, who apologised to his team-mates at half-time, had told Gopperth immediately, the outside-half could have banked the five points by attempting a drop-goal conversion before Owens knew that something was up, but it was a day when Wasps were unusually slow and dim-witted, unable to seize the initiative, never mind sustain it.

Wasp’s Willie le Roux drops the ball as he dives over the line with a try at his mercy, with Leinster leading only 8-0 at that point. He later apologised to his team-mates. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Four of the Wasps team had been in the England squad that had been vanquished here and while Leinster had the midfield that started for Ireland that day – Jonathan Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Ringrose – their approach was markedly different in one aspect: while they pressed with the same intensity, never allowing a ball-carrier time, they had considerably more fizz than the national team and took risks in possession, beating Wasps at their own game rather than in an arm-wrestle.

Leinster set the tone early when their second rows, Devin Toner and Hayden Triggs, hunted down two backs, Christian Wade and Danny Cipriani, and clung on as if their contracts depended on it. Wasps were put under pressure, not least at the lineout and the breakdown, and they operated behind the gainline off slow, scrambled possession, hustled and harried to the point where they cracked mentally.

They took off Cipriani on 55 minutes and opted for a more direct route by moving Gopperth to outside-half.

He quickly scored a try that closed the gap to eight points with 20 minutes remaining, but the change had been made too late as Wasps tried to live up to their ideal on a day when they needed to show their ugly side.

Two of the three tries they conceded in the first half had followed the cheap surrender of possession – the first, scored by Isa Nacewa, after Beale over-indulged on his 10-metre line, and the second when the forwards rolled a maul in their own half as the clock ticked down to zero and lost control of the ball for Sexton, who was twice treated for a stinger to his right shoulder after being tackled late, to send in Henshaw.

The second was created by Joey Carbery, an outside-half playing at full-back, who started the season in Leinster’s academy. The Wasps’ director of rugby, Dai Young, cited his players’ inexperience at this level as a reason why they started so tentatively, but it was Leinster who were dappled with a youthful hue: Carbery and Ringrose were novices compared to their opposite numbers, but had a profound influence on the outcome, stepping out of trouble and into space, daring to succeed.

When Carbery fielded a kick in his own half on 33 minutes, when Leinster’s 8-3 lead did not reflect their dominance, there should have been no danger for Wasps, but the 21-year-old stepped out of Beale’s tackle and received a return pass from Fergus McFadden to give the No8, Jack Conan, a free run to the line.

Wasps, in contrast, struggled to put a passing movement together. Rushed into everything, their passing lacked accuracy, their movement off the ball was limited and when Nathan Hughes launched a rare assault on the Leinster line, carrying the burly Sean O’Brien 20 metres, the home side scrambled back and earned a scrum from the maul. Toner’s pressure in the lineout led to hurried tap-backs and even if Le Roux had scored it is hard to see it changing the result.

Wasps did fight back after Sexton’s second penalty made it 25-3 nine minutes into the second half. Ashley Johnson used a turnover to get the ball quickly to Wade, who beat O’Brien in a race, and Gopperth fooled a defence that had dealt with a lateral attack by dummying and running straight. But there was no sustained pressure from the visitors and McFadden’s try, seven minutes from time, left Le Roux to rue what might have been.

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