Leinster travelled to the Ricoh Arena today in the final group game of this year’s Champions Cup looking to secure a home quarterfinal with a victory over a struggling Wasps side.
Leinster fielded a strong team, with Robbie Henshaw and Sean O’Brien (following a failed fitness test by Jack Conan) returning to the side after both got injured during Ireland’s successful November series.
Leinster looked the dominant side during the opening exchanges with Jamison Gibson Park dictating the pace for the European champions but they found breaks hard to come by.
A Ross Byrne penalty opened the scoring after ten minutes before the influential Garry Ringrose scored the first try of the game six minutes later.
It looked as though Dave Kearney may have gone over first for his second Champions Cup try in two games, however, the bouncing ball slowed him up. Leinster recycled and a few phases later Ringrose crashed through in front of the posts leaving Byrne with an easy conversion.
With the score at 10-0, Wasps finally found some rhythm and began to move the ball through the hands before Michele Campagnaro made their first meaningful line break of the game, but the Italian international was stopped short of the line.
As the first half approached the final ten minutes Wasps gave away a cheap penalty, which brought their count to five, compared to Leinster’s one, leaving Ross Byrne with yet another easy kick in front of the posts.
Leinster continued to draw penalties out of the English side. A five-metre lineout was mauled over by Sean Cronin to twist the screw just before half time. It was the hooker’s tenth try of the season, a truly phenomenal statistic.
Byrne converted the kick to leave him four from four for the first half.
Wasps tried to finish the half with a flourish, but Leinster were able to keep them at bay and finish the half with a clean sheet following a dominant 40 minutes.
Half-time score: Leinster 20 Wasps 0
Wasps tried to make a game of it in the second half, and it looked as though they were finally going to get on the scoreboard following some neat play. However, just went it looked as though they would score, Elliot Daly, knocked the ball on to let Leinster out of jail.
Wasps continued to mount the pressure on Leinster and it looked as though a score was coming. Campagnaro showed some beautiful footwork to get to the line, before Nathan Hughes picked it up from the next phase to crash over underneath the posts, finally giving the home crowd something to cheer about after 52 minutes.
Their joy lasted all of five minutes as Sean Cronin went over yet again after another world-class maul. Cronin would go on to finish the group stages as the second-highest try scorer in the competition behind Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale.
Wasps were gifted their second try of the game when Andrew Porter was caught ball watching and allowed Dan Robson to ghost through the middle and score uncontested.
Again, Wasps joy lasted a couple of short minutes. Leinster scored their best try of the day following a beautiful passage of play involving, skill, power and speed. Substitutes Max Deegan, Rory O’Loughlin and Cian Healy all played their part in a lovely flowing move before another substitute, Noel Reid finished it off to secure the bonus point win and seal home advantage for Leinster in the quarterfinals.
Marcus Watson went over for a fantastic Wasps try with two minutes left to give the home fans something to cheer about as the game drew to a close.
On a day where the Dubliners never really looked in trouble, it was great to see the performance of Robbie Henshaw and in particular Sean O’Brien following lengthy injury spells.
A routine win for Leinster who will look to the end of March and the Aviva Stadium where they face provincial rivals Ulster as their search for a fifth Champions Cup continues.
Final score: Leinster 34 Wasps 19