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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Jamie Heaslip holds the fort to lead Leinster to victory

Captain Jamie leads charge of Leinster-lite brigade as Blues sting Wasps late at the RDS

19 October 2014; Jamie Heaslip, Leinster, is tackled by Guy Thompson, left, and Christian Wade, Wasps. European Rugby Champions Cup 2014/15, Pool 2, Round 1, Leinster v Wasps, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
19 October 2014; Jamie Heaslip, Leinster, is tackled by Guy Thompson, left, and Christian Wade, Wasps. European Rugby Champions Cup 2014/15, Pool 2, Round 1, Leinster v Wasps, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Two tries from Darragh Fanning and a game-breaking third from Dominic Ryan dished up four points for Leinster against Wasps on their opening night in the Rugby Champions Cup at an electric RDS last night.

You couldn't blame coach Matt O'Connor for nipping into Donnybrook church of a Sunday morning to offer up a few prayers - probably not his sort of thing - as Leinster fended off the premature announcement of their demise.

Leinster Rugby was on the line. Not just the front-line professionals. The Academy system. The British & Irish Cup. The structures lurking just beneath the surface. This was a test of their very foundations.

Prosper

It was an all-hands-to-the-pump selection with Ian Madigan taken away from the gain line to full-back and Noel Reid inserted at twelve to prosper in hot company having played just 81 minutes of the PRO12.

The first scrum would be instructive. Welsh referee Leighton Hodges saw it Leinster's way.

From there, they exploded runners left and right with Jack McGrath, Gordon D'Arcy, Rhys Ruddock and Ian Madigan all showing angles onto the ball. The penalty came. Madigan turned it to three points in the sixth minute.

The newly installed full-back countered with confidence, scrum-half Eoin Reddan spinning it right when they should have gone left.

Hooker Sean Cronin spilled the ball. The Wasps scrum drove forward. Out-half Andy Goode caressed the ball into the corner. Cronin overthrew Devin Toner and Ashley Johnson steamed into view.

Leinster held out for the loss of just three points to Goode when it could have been much worse.

Sailosi Tagicakibau was put one-on-one with Madigan and he was not found wanting before Mike McCarthy went off his feet for Goode to kick Wasps ahead.

This was soon improved when Alapati Leiua picked off Reid's inside ball to Fanning to go three-quarters of the length of the field, Goode's conversion taking them out to 13-3 in the 25th minute.

It was a time for leadership. Step up Jamie Heaslip. He simply refused to go to ground on the ball. Jimmy Gopperth threaded a ball for Fanning to claim his first European try.

But, Christian Wade was given all the space he needed to get on the outside of Madigan and Fanning for a stunning individual try, Goode converting to take Wasps out to 20-8 in the 35th minute.

The home side needed something - anything - before the turnaround. Madigan's penalty took Leinster back to 20-11 at the break.

Storm

The rain came down as Wasps returned and they weathered the initial storm.

But Goode had to temporarily depart the scene just ahead of McGrath stopping Johnson in his tracks.

Leinster could not afford to take another five-point blow.

Devon Toner got his giant hand to Joe Simpson to set in train a living, breathing attack that culminated with Fanning fizzing over for his second try, converted by Madigan, for 20-18 in the 53rd minute.

Johnson clamped down on an unprotected McGrath at a ruck. But, Goode could not find touch. The counter came back.

Reddan jinked. Cronin came like a rocket. The recycles were swift. Ryan tore a hole in the heart of Wasps for the lead try, converted by Madigan, for 25-20 on the hour.

The game was there for both sides.

Zane Kirchner ducked back inside to come close and Fanning got within three feet of a hat-trick.

Wasps would not yield. They were still in sight of their first victory in Dublin.

Leinster were in the hunt for a bonus-point to take over at the top of Pool Two.

They had to settle for four.

This was the epitome of lead-by-example captaincy to edge out two-try Darragh Fanning.

There was never any sense of security until Dominic Ryan carried fiercely for his third European Cup try on the hour.

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