European Champions Cup Preview: Leinster v Wasps
Rounding out the inaugural week of the European Champions Cup is Leinster's home opener against Wasps.
While the new five pool format makes qualification for the knockout phase tougher than ever, Leinster do appear to have landed in the easiest of groups in Pool 2.
We're not saying they are a cert to top the group and be assured of a last eight-slot but they have the best shot of all the Irish provinces thanks to the opposition. That said, they are being crippled with injuries, so what looked like a smooth passage could be very rocky indeed.
First up is a home tie with Aviva Premiership side Wasps, and here is how we think it will go.
Form heading into the game
Looking at both teams the numbers are all but identical. Both sides have played six, won three and lost three in their respective leagues. But Wasps have yet to win away from home this year, so that has to be in Leinster's favour.
However, Leinster's biggest game of the season so far, against Munster at Aviva, was a disaster for Leinster as they were totally outplayed by their great rivals. True, Matt O'Connor's men saw off Zebre last week but you wonder how much the defeat to Munster is still lingering on their mind.
Last week Wasps had a very timely boost to their mood, thumping Bath after racing into a 29-0 lead at one point before easing off to win 29-22. Bath were very indisciplined, going down to 12 men at one point, but Wasps have to have a pep in their step when they run out at the RDS.
It would be easier to name the key players missing from the Leinster team. On top of the long-term injuries to big names like Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien, Leinster were hit with the late withdrawals of Mike Ross and Rob Kearney from the team just 24 hours before it was named on Friday.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) October 17, 2014
That leaves the Leinster team looking very different from the powerhouse of old. Experienced heads like Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan and Gordon D'Arcy are in the XV, but there are a lot of fresh faces in the starting line-up, while the bench is boosted by the sight of Luke Fitzgerald, who we can't wait to see back in action.
If Leinster are to get the home win, they will need Jimmy Gopperth to have a much better day than he did against Munster, when his kicking option rarely went well.
Wasps will be looking to their kicker too, Andy Goode, to get them over the line. The former England man had 16 points against Bath, and in what might be an attritional enough game, accuracy from the penalty might swing the day.
If kicking doesn't do it, their pair of flying wings, Christian Wade and Sailosi Tagicakibau are the danger men.
Where will the game be won and lost?
It has to be the back row area that will be decisive. Wasps captain James Haskell is turning into a colossus in the No 7 shirt, and how Leinster's defenders cope with him will be a big feature of O'Connor's plan.
From a Leinster point of view, Wasps are a typically strength first English side so they will need to be battered into submission. To do that the likes of Heaslip, Rhys Ruddock and Leinster's No 7, Dominic Ryan, need to carry the ball often and punch holes in that stout defence. The absence of O'Brien and Healy will be keenly missed in games like this.
Force their way through with power and then the game may open up for Leinster's flowing backs like Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner and Noel Reid to do the damage and get the home win and ideally a bonus point to boot.