A win for Wasps at the Stoop set up a table decider at the Ricoh Stadium in the European Rugby Champions Cup. Their rivals for top spot Leinster had beaten them by a slim 5 points in Dublin. The fixture couldn’t have been a better one as far as getting the interest of a new City piqued!
My first visit to the Ricoh Arena was booked in December long before I knew it’d be a decider for the group, so an added bonus that it would be such a key game. A crown in excess of 23K rocked up on the day, and it seems that Leinster fans don’t travel in the same numbers at the Munster stalwarts, so that was a lot of Wasps fans, new and old visiting what is a very impressive stadium.
The game started with great expectation after an immense defensive effort by Wasps against Quins in the previous round. However Wasps game plan was sent out of the window in the 1st minute – as Andy Goode kicked the ball to start the game Ashley Johnson chased the ball and clattered into David Kearney as he was in the air bringing him crashing to the ground. The incident happened right in front of where I was sitting and my initial thoughts was – That’s Red! – and watching it again on the TV it remains that way! He was a very lucky man that it was a mere yellow card brandished. Johnson lost 10 minutes of the game, Kearney was taken off injured minutes later, not a fair result. And without lingering too long, I disagree that Johnson wasn’t looking, he put his shoulder into the man – albeit with no intent to hurt- red should have been the punishment.
And so with less than a minute on the clock Leinster found themselves with a huge advantage – would they make the most of it? A penalty awarded against James Gaskell gave the visitors the territory, the overlap gave Fergus McFadden the space to score as Leinster threw the ball from one side of the pitch to his wing. Ian Madigan converted the try to put his team 7 ahead.
Andy Goode closed that gap with a penalty after Sean Cronin was penalised after a poor kick from Jimmy Gopperth was knocked on, Cronin unable to resist caught the ball in an offside position. Ashley Johnson was denied his return as a scrum was set which had the potential to add to Wasps woes as a penalty was awarded. The pitch cut up very badly as the scrum was pushed up by Leinster, that was to be a feature all over the field – it certainly kept one of the ground staff busy. Madigan missed the penalty and Johnson came back into the fray after nearly 13 minutes had elapsed.
Nathan Hughes was penalised for failing to roll away as Leinster attacked, but again, Madigan failed to convert, moments later he kicked the ball straight out, however some good counter rucking after Wasps had won the ball, saw possession going back to the Irish team. Wasps’ defence was tested as Rob Kearney stormed down the wing, brushing Christian Wade off as he did so, Madigan made a great break through before being stopped in his tracks. 13 phases later the play went back for the penalty. This time Madigan kicked well and scored the 3 points.
Lorenzo Cittadini was banished to the bin for 10 minutes as he was penalised for failing to roll away condemning the home team to a full 20 minutes of the 1st half with 14 men! Jimmy Gopperth scored the 3 points from the resulting penalty. Andy Goode returned the favour after Sean Cronin to his disgust was penalised in the ruck. At this point I do have to agree with my Wasps supporting friends – a feature of the Leinster game was their ability to take players out of the game off the ball around the ruck area, it seemed apparent at the time and is even more obvious with the benefit of TV coverage.
A Joe Simpson fumble saw Nathan Hughes rested as replacement prop Jake Cooper-Woolley came on for Cittadini, with 3 minutes of the bin remaining I might have been tempted to leave the big man on and lose a back. Leinster scored their 2nd try through replacement scrum half Isaac Boss taking advantage again of the extra man, an easy conversion for Madigan took the score to Wasps 6 Leinster 20.
The score remained that way at half time, but a very nasty hit on Ashley Johnson by Kane Douglas saw him sent to the bin, I can see the Match Commissioner may be busy after the weekend! Andy Goode missed what was a fairly easy looking kick.
The teams emerged after the half time break with the visitors being at a numerical disadvantage, Wasps were unable to take advantage of that fact in the way that Leinster had in the 1st half. Tom Varndell looked to have scored as Wasps went in search of the try – however as the ball sailed out to him on the wing Nathan Hughes was adjudged to have obstructed the defender. With the TMO at his disposal Jerome Garces would have been wise to have checked, the decision was a harsh one!
A harsh penalty was awarded against James Haskell as he tried his very best to get away from the ruck was missed by Madigan to see a smidgeon of justice. A positive comment about the BT Sport commentary team at this point, Lawrence Dallaglio and Brian O’Driscoll clearly had loyalties for this game, yet neither showed that bias when commentating! A good job by both of them!
Wasps showed their attacking mettle going through phase after phase and being kept out by the Leinster fence until Tom Varndell knocked on a poor pass. They received the ball back after the scrum and went on the attack again, Goode kicked to touch from a penalty giving Wasps a great platform. They rolled from the lineout coming up just short before Matt Mullan used all of his strength to score the try. The referee had hesitated before lifting his arm to confirm the try. A converted try was the gap with 17 minutes remaining.
That try was to follow 6 minutes later after Goode put another penalty into touch, forwards try mark two as this time the impressive Nathan Hughes picked the ball up and drove over the top of the pile of players beneath him. Andy Goode lined his kick up, Leinster players rushed towards him and the referee looked displeased at the fact – Goode hit the posts and Mr Garces allowed him a second shot at the posts – he didn’t miss. The score was tied – Wasps 20 Leinster 20 – as bizarre as it sounds I’m not sure I noticed during the game that the visitors didn’t score a solitary point in the second half.
Ian Madigan was given a chance to win the game for Leinster but missed another kick at goal. The remaining minutes were spent with both sides seeking and failing to score the drop goal – on balance I’d say that a draw was the fairest result on the day. Leinster finish top of their group and proceed to the quarter final stage, Wasps may yet do so but are reliant on failures by other teams.
More photos and a view of the whole day here –
Wasps v Leinster – Event 10 http://wp.me/p5wvCC-3T via @wordpressdotcom