Our report card as Leinster get off to perfect start in Champions Cup defence against Wasps

Alex Broun 13/10/2018
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Leinster winger James Lowe was a worthy pick as man of the match.

Leinster have begun their Champions Cup defence with a stunning 52-3 shellacking of English heavyweights Wasps at the RDS Arena in Dublin on Friday night.

Wasps are no easy-beats but they were made to look that way as the star studded Irish side ran in eight tries. For Wasps part they never looked like scoring a try and only threatened Leinster’s line once in the entire game.

Here’s our report card:

THE GOOD

James Lowe

The Leinster winger was deservedly named Man of the Match after a superb performance where he ran for a game high 164 metres (Wasps highest was Josh Bassett with 25 metres), scored two tries, made four clean breaks, won two turnovers and completed seven tackles without missing one. An All Blacks like performance from the former Chiefs winger.

Wasps’ set-piece

You might be surprised in a 50-point thrashing that you can find a good point but Wasps scrums and line out functioned fairly well throughout. It was a testament to Leinster’s superb possession rugby that there were so few scrums in the match. But the Wasps pack held up in both the set-piece facets, something (maybe the only thing) that would please boss Dai Young.

THE BAD

Leinster’s handling

The hosts scored eight scintillating tries bit it could have been a lot more if not for some very un-like Leinster handling errors. Even Jonny Sexton put one down he usually would have held comfortably. If they can tidy up that element of their game they may well be perfect.

Wasps’ second-half defence

In a game where Leinster had over 70 per cent of the territory and possession it was going to take every ounce of Wasps’ commitment to keep the Blues in check. They held in manfully in the first half, restricting Leinster to just one try plus one in time added-on when Lima Sopoaga had been harshly sent to the sin-bin. But the flood gates opened in the second half and Leinster ran in for six more tries.

KEY MOMENTS

5 mins: TRY LEINSTER: Leinster are patiently knocking at the door early, then Sean Cronin picks up at the base of the ruck and the Ireland hooker puts on an explosive burst of speed to sprint around Wasps fullback Willie le Roux and score. The Bok No15 won’t want to see that again. Leinster lead 7-0.

24 mins: LEINSTER CHANCE: Superb rugby from Leinster as they go through 23 phases working their way to the Wasps line with Jonny Sexton handling five times in the move, but just when they seem to certain to score the ball is spilled and Wasps hold on. Great defence from the English visitors.

30 mins: LEINSTER CHANCE: James Lowe slices through the Wasps defence in a thrilling counter-attack but with the defenders in tatters Jonny Sexton of all people knocks on. Very un-Leinster like.

37 mins: GREAT DEFENCE:  More committed defence from Wasps. The hosts pound away for multiple phases close to the Wasps line but somehow the visitors hold on.

40+2mins: TRY LEINSTER: It’s harsh on the visitors. With Lima Sopoaga controversially in the bin, Leinster once again hold the ball through multiple phases and this time they make no mistake with Luke McGrath diving over. Sexton coverts and Leinster lead 14-3 at half time.

41mins: TRY LEINSTER: A slick move from Leinster. Sexton passes to Robbie Henshaw who switches the ball inside to Lowe who cuts through a huge gap exactly where Liam Sopoaga would have been. Sexton converts and Leinster lead 21-3.

51mins: TRY LEINSTER: It’s the prop Tadgh Beirne showing his moves outwide now. He executes a neat in and away to get away from one man and then draws another into the tackle before offloading to Lowe. The winger sprints down the left touchline before passing inside to McGrath who scores his second try. Sexton converts and Leinster lead 28-3.

60mins: TRY LEINSTER: The Blues are running riot now. James Ryan makes a half break to start it, then Sexton passes it through his legs to set Lowe away and the former Chiefs star runs in for his second try. Sexton is just showing off now. He converts from near touch and Leinster lead 35-3.

72mins: TRY LEINSTER: Jordan Lamour finally gets in on the act. It was set up by reserve No10 who is on for Sexton, Ross Byrne. Garry Ringrose runs a lovely decoy line close to the Wasps line and Byrne finds Lamour who coasts over untouched. Byrne converts. Leinster lead 42-3.

75 mins: TRY LEINSTER: Ringrose the provider this time. He’s lurking out on the left touchline, and is found by a long ball from Byrne. He sprints down the line then finds his centre partner Robbie Henshaw inside who goes over for the try. Byrne misses the conversion to ruin the perfect night for the hosts. Leinster lead 47-3.

77 mins: REF DOWN: Jerome Garces is cleaned up by Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock who doesn’t see him coming. The ref is replaced for the final three minutes.

79mins: TRY LEINSTER: This is cruel now. The hosts win a scrum penalty and kick for the line. They set up a rolling maul from the lineout and Jack McGrath, a second half substitute, goes over. Byrne again misses the conversion but the half century is up. Leinster lead 52-3.

TACTICAL TURNING POINT

Lima Sopoaga’s yellow card

Wasps were totally outplayed in the first half but they were holding on bravely as half time approached, trailing just 7-3. Then right on half-time Lima Sopoaga, the former Highlander and All Blacks flyhalf, was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knockdown. It seemed a very harsh decision as Sopoaga had every right to try and grab what looked like a wayward pass. The decision changed the match as Leinster scored two tries while he was off the field and Wasps never got back into the match.

GRADE:

Leinster: A

This was nearly perfect from the Blues and a superb start to their quest to retain the Champions Cup. There were a few handling errors and Ross Byrne missed two late conversions but this is as close to perfection as you can get.

Wasps: C-

The visitors were outplayed right from the first moment to the last. They bravely hung in there in the first period but that resistance ended with the sin-binning of Lima Sopoaga. They could do nothing to change the course of the match and eventually succumbed to the weight of territory and possession against them.

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Nathan Hughes' tweet lands him in hot water with RFU Disciplinary Committee

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Nathan Hughes' tweeting skills have got him in trouble

Wasps and England forward Nathan Hughes‘ disciplinary hearing will reconvene next Wednesday.

Hughes’ hearing on Wednesday of this week investigated his citing for punching during a Gallagher Premiership game against Gloucester last weekend.

But the issuing of any judgement was postponed when it emerged that the England number eight tweeted “What a joke” upon learning the verdict of his case.

Following initial confusion it since became clear that Hughes’ tweet, which was subsequently deleted, forced the hearing to be reconvened next week.

In a statement, the RFU said: “The independent disciplinary panel comprising Gareth Graham (chair) with Matthew Weaver and Martyn Wood will reconvene at 1830 on Wednesday 17 October 2018 to resume the case of Wasps’ Nathan Hughes, which was adjourned on Wednesday evening this week.

“Under RFU regulation 19.5.3, Hughes remains suspended until the conclusion of the matter.”

If Hughes is reprimanded for his Twitter comment, he is likely to face either additional sanction on the grounds of conduct or the withdrawal of any mitigation applied to any original ban issued for punching.

In an RFU statement issued on Wednesday, panel chairman Graham said: “The independent panel appointed to deal with this case will reconvene in not less than seven days in order to deal with an issue that arose during the evening.”

Hughes was cited for punching Lewis Ludlow in the head while being pinned to the floor by the Gloucester flanker in the final minute of Wasps’ 35-21 defeat at the Ricoh Arena.

It could have seen the 27-year-old banned for six weeks if found guilty, as blows to the head are automatically considered to be a mid-range offence.

A suspension of that length would rule him out of the November Tests against South Africa, New Zealand and Japan, but make him available for Australia on November 24.

His absence would leave England with Saracens’ Billy Vunipola as their only recognised number eight after Exeter forward Sam Simmonds was ruled out for at least six months by a knee injury.

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Dan Biggar of the Saints will be in action against Clermont in the Challenge Cup opening weekend

Northampton will face an immediate test of their European Challenge Cup ambitions on Saturday when French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne arrive at Franklin’s Gardens.

Not only are Clermont the current Top 14 leaders, they will head to Saints with a powerful line-up featuring the likes of centre Remi Lamerat, scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, prop Rabah Slimani and number eight Fritz Lee, with Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez among their replacements.

The competition favourites can take early charge of Pool One if they win on the road, but they will be wary of their last vist to Northampton nine months ago, which produced a 34-21 Champions Cup defeat.

Saints Rugby director Chris Boyd has made four changes, handing starts to Piers Francis, Tom Collins, James Haskell and Dom Barrow, while Dan Biggar and Dylan Hartley also feature.

Harlequins, three-time Challenge Cup winners, open up against French visitors Agen at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, with Mike Brown, Marcus Smith and Joe Marler among their starters.

“We have a rich history in the Challenge Cup and we want to do well in the competition by starting strongly,” Quins head of Rugby Paul Gustard told quins.co.uk.

“This is also an opportunity for us to build on recent performances and move the team and the club forward.

“We took pride in our resilient performance against Saracens last week, and we have been pleased to see the improvements in our defence and scrum. Now, we want to see our attack become more threatening.”

Bristol, back in European competition following their return to the Gallagher Premiership this season, start against Ashton Gate visitors Zebre.

Head coach Pat Lam has made 12 changes from the side crushed 52-7 by Worcester five days ago, with only wing Alapati Leiua, plus centres Siale Piutau and Will Hurrell, remaining.

Full-back Tom Pincus and props Jake Woolmore and Jake Armstrong make first competitive starts as Bristol look to make home advantage count in a pool that also includes La Rochelle and Enisei-STM.

South Africa international centre Wynand Olivier, meanwhile, returns from a long-term injury absence for Worcester’s Pool Two appointment with Stade Francais in Paris, with Warriors showing 15 changes from the Bristol game

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