herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Leinster must produce their A-Game to avoid bee-sting

LEINSTER v WASPS, The Rds, Tomorrow (KO 5.15), Live BT Sports 1

Forget the return of the prodigal Jonathan Sexton. For now.

The arch professional will have his thoughts and boots trained on what he can do to turn big-spending, narrow-minded Racing Metro towards the light of European rugby.

Leinster have not felt so low since the days when Munster were kings of Europe. The retirements have mounted up. The injuries have been piled on top.

No matter how coach Matt O'Connor manfully refuses to use the issue of injuries as an excuse, it is still there as the most relevant factor in Leinster's sluggish start to the season.

Will this be for Leinster what the Aviva Stadium was for Munster less than two weeks ago? Can they take all the angst and agony and turn it into a perfect storm to wash away Wasps?

There has been an avalanche of criticism raining down on O'Connor from internet forums, dissatisfied supporters raging against the dying out of a legacy so hard-won not so long ago.

The simple truth is that O'Connor has had to plan for Wasps without Seán O'Brien, Cian Healy, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Shane Jennings, Martin Moore, Jordi Murphy and Kevin McLaughlin.

Leinster's two most powerful players, O'Brien and Healy, are not even listed in Leinster's European Rugby Champions Cup squad, a reflection of their long-term unavailability. Hooker Richardt Strauss played for an hour against Zebre, his first action in five months. Centre Noel Reid lasted the 80 to go beside one minute against Glasgow on day one.

Catastrophic

Wing Zane Kirchner was out for a month until returning against Zebre. Second row Kane Douglas is still finding his feet and new signing Ben Te'o only arrived last weekend.

This all amounts to a catastrophic build-up to Leinster's opening round against a well-rounded, experienced Wasps collective that have come together quite quickly given the number of summer signings brought in by Dai Young.

And still Wasps have showered down the compliments.

"I don't think you get much bigger than Leinster on the European stage," said centre Elliot Daly.

"A lot of the boys haven't tasted the highest levels of European rugby.

"To have that as your first game, especially over there with their crowd, will be an amazing experience. There is not one fixture in the Champions Cup this year where you think, 'that will be a win'.

"Leinster are carrying a few injuries at the moment, but they've got stars all over the shop."

Daly could kill Leinster with kindness.

"It won't matter an ounce of weight to the argument.

The Blues are wounded out of inconsistent form and a stack of injuries to front-line Ireland internationals.

Verdict: Wasps

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