Luke Fitzgerald got a rousing reception at Donnybrook in his first game since last November’s international against Australia, but he could not prevent an experimental Leinster side from slipping to a heavy pre-season defeat to London Wasps.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Friday, August 20
LEINSTER 6 LONDON WASPS 41, Donnybrook
Scorers: Leinster: Pens: Ian Madigan 2
London Wasps: Tries: Tom Varndell, Ben Jacobs, Richard Haughton 2, Mark Van Gisbergen, Christian Wade; Pen: Dave Walder; Cons: Dave Walder, Joe Simpson 3
Ireland internationals Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy were among those who watched on from the stands, with the fit-again Luke Fitzgerald, recovered from a long term knee injury, starting at full-back in new coach Joe Schmidt’s first game in charge of Leinster.
Recent signings Heinke van der Merwe, Isaac Boss and Mariano Galarza got some game-time in Leinster blue, while Sean O’Brien, the province’s captain for the night, also made a welcome return from a broken leg.
But, in sunny conditions, Wasps were in no mood for a light run-out and they burst out of the blocks, following up on their strong performance in reach the semi-finals of the Middlesex Sevens last weekend.
The visitors began in lightning fashion and claimed the opening try of the night inside two minutes. Tom Varndell finished in the corner, after a Leinster move had broken down a few metres inside Wasps’ half.
Strong tackling forced a fumble and Ben Jacobs cut through to feed Varndell who had the pace to evade several tackles and finish off. Dave Walder missed the conversion and Leinster managed to gain some momentum, despite losing centre Eamonn Sheridan through an early injury.
Out-half Ian Madigan narrowed the gap with a penalty after 28 minutes, and the former Ireland Under-20 international added a second to give Leinster a 6-5 lead with half-time in sight.
Nonetheless, his opposite number Walder gave Wasps an 8-6 advantage for the break with a penalty of his own.
The second half saw Leinster fail to muster a score, despite some clever play from scrum half Boss, as Wasps took control of the scoreboard.
Centre Jacobs crashed through for the second try of the night in the 44th minute, which Walder converted.
Ten minutes later, right winger Richard Haughton ended a 30-metre burst by scoring under the posts, and influential replacement Joe Simpson tagged on the conversion for a 22-6 buffer.
Simpson turned provider as he put boot to ball to set up a try for fellow replacement Mark Van Gisbergen. Leinster’s young guns looked poised to respond, but their spirited efforts failed to reap dividends in front of a 5,640-strong crowd.
Replacement Fergus McFadden, who missed Ireland’s summer tour with a fractured jaw, had Leinster’s best chance of a try in the 68th minute. He kicked the ball free from a ruck but could not gather the bouncing ball with Wasps caught out of position.
It only took two minutes of pressure for Wasps to claim their fifth try of the night, with Haughton completing his brace.
They had former Lion Simon Shaw sin-binned for a late tackle, but responded by registering their sixth and final try courtesy of another replacement, Christian Wade.
Speaking after the game, new Leinster supremo Joe Schmidt said: “The result was never going to be the most important thing, so we had an opportunity to look at a number of guys and some of them put their hands up (for selection).
“Wasps are a pretty experienced side with a number of England internationals and we knew that it was going to be a tough test.
“It was good for Sean (O’Brien) and Luke (Fitzgerald) to get 40 minutes each. I thought Seanie carried strongly and led the team well, while Luke looked dangerous.”
LEINSTER: Luke Fitzgerald; David Kearney, Eoin O’Malley, Eamonn Sheridan, Isa Nacewa; Ian Madigan, Paul O’Donohoe; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Trevor Hogan, Devin Toner, Eoin Sheriff, Paul Ryan, Sean O’Brien (capt).
Replacements used: Fergus McFadden for Sheridan (19 mins), Niall Morris for Fitzgerald, Michael Keating for Nacewa, Isaac Boss for O’Donohoe, Jason Harris-Wright for Strauss (all half-time), Ben Marshall for O’Brien (56), Stan Wright for Ross (58-72), Isa Nacewa for Kearney (59), Dominic Ryan for P Ryan (63), Jack McGrath for van der Merwe (70), Mariano Galarza for Hogan (72).
LONDON WASPS: Jack Wallace; Richard Haughton, Ben Jacobs, Dom Waldouck (capt), Tom Varndell; Dave Walder, Nic Berry; Zak Taulafo, Tom Lindsay, Phil Vickery, Marty Veale, Richard Birkett, Will Matthews, Serge Betson, John Hart.
Replacements used: Rob Webber for Lindsay (14-28 mins, temp), Sam Jones for Matthews (25), Joe Simpson for Berry, Riki Flutey for Waldouck, Christian Wade for Varndell, Tom Rees for Hart, James Cannon for Veale, Ben Broster for Vickery (all half-time), Tim Payne for Taulafo, Rob Webber for Lindsay, Simon Shaw for Birkett, Elliot Daly for Walder, Mark Van Gisbergen for Wallace (all 53), John Hart for Jones (77).
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)