So here we are again, another quarter final in the Champions Cup!
In order to introduce my title for this write up, I would like to tell you a quick story which I think will help put my opinion on this quarter final into context.
A few months ago, my wife and I were up in Dublin for the weekend. The daytime was filled with going from shop to shop in Grafton street but I didn’t mind too much as I knew we’d be heading to the pub for a few pints that evening. So, eventually when the time came for a pint, I was dying for an old reliable, what in my opinion the day had been building up to, a nice cold pint of Heineken. We went to a pub in one of the side streets in Grafton street and I it didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to drink. “One pint of Heineken” (and whatever the wife was having) I said to the bartender. The bartender was very quick to respond sharply saying something along the lines of “would you not try something different? We have lots of really nice craft beers on tap, some of which are like Heineken but better, and one in particular that’s very popular, gets great reviews and everyone seems to love.” I just said “ah no, I’m grand with the Heineken” to which he insisted “sure have a little try of it and sure if you don’t like it, I’ll pour you a Heineken.” So of course I agreed to that and the bartender produced a little taster of the craft beer suggested, cant remember what it was called, lets just pretend it was called “Taoiseach’s Knob”. So, after drinking a little bit of Taoiseach’s knob, I thought it tasted really nice and very different from what I was used to. The bartender was right, he hyped up the brilliance of this beer and as a result I said “go on so, I’ll have a nice pint of the “Taoiseach’s Knob”.
Once I had the full pint of this new beer in my hand, my wife and I sat down to watch the Wasps (funnily enough) v Connacht game in the Champions Cup. Connacht stayed close to Wasps for the vast majority of the match but eventually ran out of steam and lost the game by about 15 points. Similarly enough, as I was drinking the Taoiseach’s Knob, it started to not taste as good as I initially thought and by the time I was a third of the way through it, I started to regret my decision to order it. Although it was good to try something different, the hype sold to me by the bartender just didn’t stand up to my personal taste. I should have stuck to my guns and went for something that I have always loved, always enjoyed and essentially what I had been lusting for throughout the previous few hours of shopping. Yes it’s just a beer, but sometimes if you know something is already good enough for you every single time and you believe it wont let you down, then why gamble on something else. This little story leads me to present my title for this write up:
Lest We Forget
As we go into this quarter final, I am reminded of the Taoiseach’s Knob (the beer of course, not his actual penis, although it’s in my head now but not literally). We are up against a very strong English team tomorrow and one that has been flying high in the Aviva Premiership, currently sitting top of the table after 18 rounds. They have the fastest winger in the Champions Cup in Christian Wade who scores tries for fun. They have serious threats across the squad, and love to play attacking wide rugby using decoy runners and cheeky grubbers to send their explosive backs through. Their big strong pack can barge through many a strong defence and interestingly, they have three former Leinster players who know what to expect from us (Marty Moore, Jimmy Gopperth and Brendan Macken). They’re a scary prospect for any team to face and they are certainly a handful home or away. I have a lot of respect for the team, sure they beat us twice last season and did it with relative ease. They’ll be brimming with confidence and will fancy their chances of adding further damage to our pecking order in Europe tomorrow afternoon.
However!! Least we forget, although Wasps are excellent and have a fantastic opportunity tomorrow, they in my opinion are and should be seen as the Taoiseach’s Knob. Leinster IS Heineken, Leinster is proven at this level and have the stars to prove it. No one is talking us up in the media this week, maybe because the same bartender served the same craft beer to those journalists and they loved it, and perhaps some in fairness may not have tried Heineken before. Essentially, what we’re seeing this week is a nation looking at the latest new kids on the block and forgetting (sometimes conveniently) the other team and what they are capable of. It’s very strange really when you think of it, but in some ways not surprising as it’s Leinster and all that.
Leinster sit top of the table in the Pro12 with far superior stats than all other teams in the same competition. We also topped our Champions Cup pool, scored more points, tries and made more metres than any other team in Europe this season, in ALL competitions (Pro12, Champions Cup, Aviva Premiership and Top14). We have won 100% of our scrums in all competitions, Wasps have won 82%. The scrum stat is important because believe it or not, the scrum is where Wasps are “most deadly”, but in comparison to Leinster, we are clearly far superior in that area. Of course, none of these stats have been reported, the main item that’s been thrown around is that they beat us twice last season, which is valid and should be pointed out. But it’s a mistake to focus on that when you take into account that Wasps are playing a very different Leinster side containing 17 Irish internationals in the Aviva in front of what it looking like a sold out game. Wasps are bringing a whopping 4 English internationals.
Ok, it’s fair to say that Wasps are going to be tough to turn over, they are statistically the strongest team in Europe outside the top 4 (Leinster, Clermont, Saracens and Munster) and they should be given the respect they’re due. But again, it’s very important to give Leinster their respect too, it’s almost an outrage that that hasn’t been given at all by any Irish media this week, and I’ve read almost every article available.
I think that Ringrose and Carbery are going to be among the main talking points after this match. I feel that they will have a great game and this type of opposition will suit their styles and will make them key for us when unlocking the Wasps defence. Nacewa and Sexton of course will pull the stings beautifully as always although I predict Sexton to receive some classic late tackles from the English like a couple of weeks ago in the same stadium.
Christian Wade, Elliot Daly and Kurtley Beale are the Wasps back 3 and they are incredible when given the ball with space. They will be the main targets of our defence as they can run the length of the pitch unopposed if they find a gap, they are used to doing it in the Aviva Premiership.
Where the game can be won
Leinster’s pack, namely Jack McGrath, Strauss, Furlong, Conan, Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy are our strongest area and superior to what the Wasps have on offer. If these lads keep the defensive line intact, use Ringrose to sniff out gaps in Wasps’ defence, then use Sexton to deliver the ball to our wingers Byrne and Nacewa, we could see lots of tries. Wasps have an amazing try scoring record, but they equally concede a lot too, if you compare the two leagues, Wasps have scored 4 more points in the Aviva Premiership than Leinster in the Pro12, but they have conceded a massive 101 more points than us. If we get in there early, we could really capitalise on their biggest weakness.
Where the game can be lost
Complacency, especially in defence, is Leinster’s biggest weakness. We have the Ferrari of defences but can sometimes get stuck in 3rd gear, like last week against Cardiff. Thankfully we had that defensive blip last week out of the way and hopefully it was a wake up call. If we give the Wasps back three any whiff of a complacent defence, it’s game over. They are just too lethal in attack for us to be anywhere from 100% in that defensive area.
Wasps are coming over here with confidence and rightly so given their style and success this season. They’ll be looking to throw the ball around, get out wide and cause all sorts of disruption to us. However, Leinster generally play their best rugby when up against the wall, and also when the odds are against us (at least in the media). But apart from that, we actually have the better scrum, better lineout, better defence, better attack, and most importantly, the better team. I think it will be tight at first but once we get motoring and build momentum, we will not only get ahead on the scoreboard, we will shock the Wasps with a comfortable win. This is Leinster after all, lest we forget!!
Leinster 34, Wasps 19