The 21 year-old weaved his magic and led the way to the Champions Cup semi-final
By Phil Rice
The Leinster Academy band-wagon rolls on and produces another class act in full-back Joey Carbery. The talented full-back was unfazed by the exalted company he was keeping last Saturday and produced a winning performance to justify Head Coach Leo Cullen’s faith in his youth policy.
Wasps are riding high in the Aviva Premiership but they couldn’t cope with the dazzling display of running rugby produced by Leinster’s talented youngsters.
Apart from Carbery, scrum-half Luke McGrath, centres Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw and flanker Dan Leavy, all aged 23 or less, led the way as Wasps had no answer to the all-action Leinster attack. In front of a capacity crowd, the home team grabbed the initiative from the outset and pressured Wasps into frequent mistakes which Leinster capitalised upon.
The pace of the game was relentless and for the most part Wasps couldn’t cope with the variations in play that the home team produced. The final score of 32-17 to Leinster reflected the superiority of ‘the boys in blue.’
As ever Johnny Sexton was the ring-master mesmerising the Wasps defence with sleight of hand and deft kicks. The centre partnership of Henshaw and Ringrose are repaying the faith that Joe Schmidt and Cullen have shown in them. Time and again they got over the gain line by forceful running and razorsharp breaks.
Sadly the prolific scoring winger Adam Byrne had to leave the field early on with hamstring problems. But replacement Fergus McFadden, the forgotten man of Irish rugby, made a telling contribution including a crucial try just when Wasps briefly threatened to establish a foothold in the match.
On all the vital statistics, from possession to territory to penalty count, Leinster carried out their game plan with precision. The much-heralded Wasps fly-half Danny Ciprani, had a miserable day and was substituted after 54 minutes, he kicked loosely and Carbery gratefully accepted the misdirected kicks and countered with incisive breaks that tore the English team’s defence to shreds.
The support play of Sean O’Brien, who was outstanding, and his backrow cohorts Leavy and Jack Conan, was immense. Leavy improves with every game, and the ability to introduce the combative Josh van der Flier from the bench just underlines the strength in depth of this Leinster squad. The fact that the absence of stalwarts of the stature of Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney went almost unnoticed, testifies to the quality of this squad.
The line out throwing of hooker Richardt Strauss left something to be desired at times but his play around the field was excellent.
Sean Cronin is likely to return for the next round in three weeks. Props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong outplayed their opposites and gave a rock-solid platform for the backs to exploit. With this win Leinster have re-established themselves at the top of the European game.
Their next assignment against French giants, Clermont Auvergne in France, will test their resources even further.
Clermont defeated three-time champions Toulon 29-9 in an attritional battle at the weekend. But the confidence Leinster will gain from outplaying this powerful Wasps team will provide them with the belief that they have no reason to fear anyone if they continue to play with the flair they showed on Saturday.
With the Six Nations over, all eyes are on Warren Gatland and his selections for the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.