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Sunday 19 November 2017

Gopperth: 'English game is a lot stronger'

Wasps and former Leinster playmaker Jimmy Gopperth.
Wasps and former Leinster playmaker Jimmy Gopperth.

It is like he's never been away, at least when it comes to Europe. When Jimmy Gopperth was 'sent to Coventry' to make his home in the English midlands, that could have been the last Leinster saw of him.

In his second season, Gopperth led Leinster to a 25-20 victory over Wasps at The RDS and to a 20-all draw at the Ricoh Arena to seal their Champions Cup quarter-final. When the switch came for the New Zealander to move to England, he jested about the possibility of renewing not-so-old acquaintances.

"I was having a yarn to some of the boys and said, 'I bet you we will get you in the pool stages.' It's been every year we've played them. I can't get away, mate," he said.

Gopperth duly turned up on Leinster's doorstep last season to dump all over their grand expectations. Initially, it was billed as Leinster's problem in that they could not get it together with their frontline troops soldiering back from the World Cup.

Looking closer, the ruthlessness with which Wasps countered to make so much out of so little possession was the hallmark of their strategy, the swift Christian Wade, Joe Simpson and Charles Piutau all striking for tries.

Gradually, Wasps began to assert their authority through the season, leading to a 51-10 embarrassment of bedraggled Leinster in the last Pool match.

It was a stain on Leinster's European history. It was also a relfection of the growth of Wasps back towards the summit when they ruled Europe in 2004 and 2007.

This improvement has not abated. They head The Premiership table with the best attack in their League and have attracted the glamour boys Kurtley Beale and Willie le Roux into the club and Danny Cipriani back to it.

More tries

Leinster may have accumulated more tries (79) than Wasps (73) from 18 rounds of the PRO12 League and conceded fewer (37) than their guests (49).

In Gopperth's opinion, this is a comparison between apples and oranges.

"Look, I think the Premiership on a whole is a lot stronger than the Pro 12," he said.

"It's like Leinster-Munster every single week over here. There is no let up. Even the bottom teams give you a run for your money."

The money pouring into The Premiership has been matched by the player quality being imported and being produced.

"It is a lot more attritional over here," said the 33 year-old. "The English union don't have control over the players. They are playing every week. You've got the internationals playing very single week. It's a very, very good competition and getting stronger and stronger.

"The skill level is getting a lot better because a lot of teams have outstanding pitches."

Wasps like to play it hard and fast. Director of Rugby Dai Young is old school in his dedication to winning the battle with his big men. They have no shortage of muscle from Nathan Hughes, James Haskell, Thomas Young and Joe Launchbury.

Leinster will meet them head-on with Sean O'Brien taking up the lead-by-example role in the absence of Jamie Heaslip, backed up by Jack Conan and one of Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock or Josh van der Flier.

"We know what's coming. It's definitey going to be a very physical challenge," recognised Gopperth.

Whether the playmaker is placed outside Danny Cipriani at inside centre or in the number ten channel, he will relish the role of the target man.

"I am sure the likes of Seanie will try and rile me up and give me one or two (hits)," he said.

"There's going to be no love lost. We've got to make sure we will be mentally on it. It's going to be pretty much international standard."

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