Dominant Leinster barge past Wasps to reach European Champions Cup semi-finals

Leinster 32 Wasps 17: Much of the damage was done in the first half as the Irish side ran a total of four tries past the visitors

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The Independent Online

Leinster rattled up four tries to blow Wasps away in this European Champions Cup quarter-final and reach the last four for the sixth time in nine seasons.

With just a few honourable exceptions including Kurtley Beale, their Australian maestro of a full-back, Wasps dithered, fumbled and made numerous elemental errors in a clear-cut loss at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland lost both their two away matches to Scotland and Wales in the recent Six Nations Championship, which may have coloured the selection thinking of the British & Irish Lions’ head coach Warren Gatland ahead of the tour to New Zealand this summer.

But Irish sides’ form on home turf in recent weeks has been witheringly good, and a stack of Leinstermen, led by fly-half Johnny Sexton, showed Lions-style form in the first of the weekend’s quarter-finals.

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Jamison Gibson-Park distributes from a ruck (Getty)

Leinster were thrashed home and away by Wasps in pool play last year but with no World Cup distractions this season the current leaders of the PRO12 ripped into the leaders of the English Premiership from the first whistle.

The scoreline was 8-0 by the 15th minute with an early penalty by Sexton and a try from Leinster’s captain Isa Nacewa at the left corner.

The Irish province had just blown a good chance with an overthrow at an attacking line-out in the Wasps red zone but they came again from a line-out on halfway, as Adam Byrne probed towards the 22 and expert passing from Sexton and full-back Joey Carbery put Nacewa in for his competition-leading seventh try of the season.

Wasps had four England players revisiting the scene of their Six Nations Grand Slam loss to Ireland at this venue a fortnight ago but neither side that day suffered the kind of horrendous howler that befell Willie le Roux with 23 minutes gone.

The 41-times capped Springboks full-back, playing on the wing for Wasps today, had picked a brilliant angle of support to track a scintillating counter-attack by Beale and looked to have claimed a crucial try with a 40-metre run-in.

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Jimmy Gopperth of Wasps is tackled by Devin Toner and Dan Leavy (Getty)

But Sexton knew differently, waving frantically that Le Roux had lost control of the ball as he made a headlong scoring dive instead of dotting down securely, and a television review confirmed a huge gift of a let-off for Leinster worth a probable seven points.

In a match between teams with five European Cup titles behind them, such profligacy was a splattering blot on Wasps’ copybook.

A penalty by Wasps’ former Leinster midfielder Jimmy Gopperth repaired a little of the damage, after Sexton’s opposite number Danny Cipriani was clattered off the ball by prop Tadhg Furlong.

But Leinster’s second and third tries gave the home team a healthy lead of 22-3 at the interval.

The dangerous Carbery was allowed to wander down the right by Wasps, and exchanged passes with the injured Byrne’s replacement Fergus McFadden to send No.8 Jack Cowan away for a score converted by Sexton.

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Gopperth is congratulated by team-mates after scoring for Wasps (Getty)

And bang on half-time a maul seemingly in Wasps’ control was disrupted by the telescopic arm of Devin Toner, and Leinster roared away with the loose ball for a try finished by Robbie Henshaw and converted by Sexton.

The Premiership’s leading try scorers Wasps were unable to build continuity and conceded a soft penalty when James Haskell gambled that referee Nigel Owens’s demand to Leinster to use a scrum ball was an invitation to break his bind.

The pain was compounded when a ball slipped out of a Wasps scrum and with Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath having swooped on it fast, the visitors’ England No 8 Nathan Hughes was penalised for offside as he tried to retrieve possession.

Sexton’s successful kick pushed Leinster’s lead up to 22 points.

Wasps had struggled in the scrums but they contested the breakdown harder in the second half and grabbed their first try and a modicum of hope in the 53rd minute with a turnover 30 metres from the Leinster goalline and a ball flung out to Christian Wade on the right wing.

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Elliot Daly kicks to clear for Wasps (Getty)

There may be doubts over Wade’s defence but the 25-year-old’s attacking sense is as sharp as anyone’s in the northern hemisphere and with a chip and rapid chase, plus a conversion by Gopperth, he helped peg Leinster back to 25-10.

And the always alert and superbly obdurate Gopperth – now at fly-half with Cipriani substituted – stung his old team-mates with a knifing sidestep across the 22-metre line and a surging finish, improved by his own conversion, to make it 25-17 with an hour gone.

Garry Ringrose showed off a little of the natty footwork that has impressed so many pundits of late as the big Leinster and Ireland centre carried the fight back to Wasps.

Leinster gave Sean O’Brien a rest for the last 13 minutes, with the flanker’s impressive workload having included 16 carries and 10 tackles with none missed.

Another penalty was conceded by Hughes when he went deliberately offside, thinking incorrectly no ruck had been formed after a tackle on Ringrose.

And with Toner grafting hard to wrap around a ruck in the 74th minute, Leinster had their fourth try by McFadden, converted by Sexton, as the champions of 2009, 2011 and 2012 sailed through to a semi-final against either Clermont Auvergne in Lyon or Toulon in Nice on the weekend of 23 April.

Man of the match Carbery said: “A few things went our way in the first half and to have a lead like we had gave us good morale towards the end. At half-time we said we just had to keep our playing our game and we’re absolutely delighted with how it went.”

Scorers:

Leinster: tries: Nacewa, Cowan, Henshaw, McFadden; conversions: Sexton 3; penalties: Sexton 2.

Wasps: tries: Wade, Gopperth; conversions: Gopperth 2; penalty: Gopperth.

Leinster: J Carbery (rep Z Kirchner 79th min; A Byrne (F McFadden 22), R Henshaw, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 63); J McGrath (C Healy 52), R Strauss (J Tracy 55), T Furlong (M Bent 66), D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 59), D Leavy (J van der Flier 16-22), S O’Brien (Van der Flier 67), J Conan.

Wasps: K Beale; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, W le Roux; D Cipriani (A Leiua 55), D Robson (J Simpson 49); M Mullan (S McIntyre 58), T Taylor (A Johnson 49), J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 49-76), J Launchbury (capt), K Myall (M Symons 49), J Haskell, T Young, N Hughes (A Rieder 76).

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

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