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The last time Wasps came to Dublin they put in one of their greatest ever performances to win an unforgettable Heineken Cup semi final against Munster on their way to lifting the trophy in 2004. This time their visit to Molly Malone’s fair city was an altogether different affair, as they suffered a crushing defeat against a Leinster side which was potent in attack and resolute in defence and exacted sweet revenge for their 35-13 defeat at Adams Park, when the sides last met in the quarterfinal in April 2007.
Things had looked promising at halftime as Wasps had dominated the second quarter to end the first half just four points behind, after two early Brian O’Driscoll tries had given the home side the best possible start. But a third Leinster try, shortly after the restart, set them on their way to a six tries to one win condemning Wasps to their biggest European defeat in six years and outscoring them 26-0 in the second half.
Wasps came close to scoring right from the kick off, after Joe Worsley caught Contepomi’s kick. The ball was moved out to Paul Sackey who broke away down the right and kicked ahead. Contepomi got back in time to gather the ball but Sackey’s tackle forced him over the line to give Wasps an attacking scrum. Possession was turned over though and Leinster cleared the danger.
The home sides first threat came when Luke Fitzgerald hoisted a high kick towards the Wasps 22 and Tom Palmer dropped the ball to set up an attacking scrum. Leinster won possession and Rob Kearney chipped behind the defence. Brian O’Driscoll was on hand to collect the ball and twist over for a try, which Contepomi converted from near the touchline to make it 7-0 after five minutes.
After ten minutes, Wasps put together a controlled series of phases which ended with Leinster being penalised for not rolling away and Cipriani landed a 30-metre penalty.
Leinster extended their lead three minutes later with a wonderful piece of footballing skill from O’Driscoll who fed the ball near the right touchline just outside the Wasps 22. Chipping ahead he then got his boot to the bouncing ball to lift it over Jeremy Staunton’s head before crashing over. Contepomi was unable to convert.
Wasps then showed ambition by launching a back move from deep inside their own 22, which took play up to halfway, before the home defence got back to end the move. Wasps best spell of the match then saw them mount a series of assaults on the line, with Haskell, Ibanez and Cipriani all going close. Then, after a further series of powerful surges, the ball was worked out to the left, and Cipriani’s pace appeared to have set up an overlap for Tom Voyce, but the winger was unable to hang on to the pass. Leinster were then penalised at the scrum and Wasps opted to kick to the corner rather than to go for the posts. They immediately regretted the decision when they were penalised after the lineout.
When play switched to the other end a long Cipriani pass inside his own 22, bounced dangerously for Staunton. By the time the fullback gathered, O’Driscoll was there to charge his kick down, but the ball ricocheted into touch. A minute later Wasps were a man down and 12 points behind, when Phil Vickery was shown the yellow card for an offence in front of the posts. Contepomi landed a simple kick to make it 15-3. After a fine Wasps attack, which featured a deft piece of juggling by Haskell, Leinster were caught offside in front of their posts and Cipriani narrowed the gap with a straightforward penalty.
Cipriani then brought the crowd to its feet with a dazzling burst from his own 22. His blistering pace took him over the halfway line, before his swivelled pass fell to the ground, but Flutey was following up to keep the attack alive and a sustained onslaught ended when Leinster snatched possession from a breakdown near their line. Wasps weren’t to be denied and Flutey’s defence-splitting break set up the chance for Cipriani to send Staunton over in the corner. With the crowd venting their fury for an apparent piece of obstruction, Cipriani’s kick drifted wide, to make it 15-11 at the break.
Wasps had certainly ended the half strongly, dominating territory and possession, finding a fluency which had been absent from most of their earlier games.
Leinster were forced into a change at the break, with Jonathan Sexton coming on for the talismanic O’Driscoll, who’d been limping badly at the end of the first half. Inside the first minute a Wasps handling error gave Leinster the chance to launch a dangerous attack, which ended in a knock on. Two minutes later, Reddan’s clearance kick was charged down, the ball was again moved out wide, and Sexton delivered a pass to send Fitzgerald over in the corner. Contepomi added the extra points with a magnificent kick. Wasps responded immediately and Josh Lewsey was inches away from winning the race to delicate chip by Cipriani.
A minute later the fly half launched a threatening counterattack from inside his own 22, but referee Nigel Owens ruled that his pass had gone forward. From the scrum Leinster came close before being penalised for not releasing inched short of the line. An incisive attack down the left, with a well-timed burst of pace from Contepomi, stretched the defence, but his pass went into touch. He then split the defence with a jinking run but Wasps won a precious turnover under intense pressure a few yards from their line.
The first Wasps substitution saw Rob Webber come on for Raphael Ibanez. Wasps immediately conceded a fourth try, when Contepomi charged down Flutey’s clearance to go over and claim the bonus point, with 22 minutes to go. Paul Sackey then showed Houdini-like skills in escaping from a dangerous situation on his own line. He gathered a rolling ball and somehow slipped out of Kearney’s grasp to put in a clearance kick.
It was a brief respite as a slicing break by Sexton took play back to the Wasps line, and Rocky Elsom crashed over near the posts. Contepomi added the extra points to put his side 25 points clear. Wasps then brought on Mark Van Gisbergen in place of Jeremy Staunton who’d been having problems with high kicks in the tricky, swirling wind.
There was no end to the misery for Wasps, as Reddan lost possession on halfway and lock Malcolm O’Kelly went charging clear. He was stopped just short of the line by Cipriani, who’d shown remarkable pace to get back, but the ball was worked out to the right, and Kearney had the easiest of chances to stroll over unopposed. Contepomi’s kick was off target.
With the game, and even the losing bonus point, well out of reach, Wasps threw caution to the wind but Leinster’s defence proved as effective as their attack and they were equal to everything that Wasps could throw at them. With the final move of the game Sackey made a desperate lunge for a consolation try in the corner, but he was held up over the line, and the whistle went to give Leinster a thirty-point winning margin which was no more than they deserved.
This result puts Leinster in pole position in the group with two bonus points. Wasps cannot afford anything but a double, from December’s back-to-back games against Edinburgh. But, at this stage, few would bet against Leinster winning the pool, setting Wasps a hard path to qualification.
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