James Lowe scored twice in Leinster’s demolishing of Wasps with an eight to zero try haul. A near perfect 52-3 victory. The best player on the pitch by a long shot.
It was a strange evening in Dublin. Storm Callum had been promised and had passed. But there was still a swirling breeze around the stadium. Not noticeable at pitch level (the flags barely moved) but it gave the kickers some problems throughout the game.
Leinster played keep ball for most of the first half. It was as if they had drilled all week for it, expecting to be playing into a gale force wind, rather than the gusty breeze. But a game plan is a game, and they stuck to it for the entire first half, giving Wasps little to play with.
That the score was only 7-3 with a couple of minutes left on the clock and Wasps in a dangerous attacking position was leaving the crowd slightly worried. If the visitors scored we would have little to show for all the possession.
Just Sean Cronin’s opportunistic try. He picked the ball up at a ruck after Romain Poite had given Leinster a penalty advantage. There was no pillar and his burst of pace took the Wasp backs by complete surprise.
Wasps scored a penalty to keep the scoreboard close, but it was all Leinster for most of the rest of the half. Wasps defended brilliantly; there’s no argument to that. Leinster had opportunities, and got close to the line, but sheer defensive will power held them out time and again.
The one clear-cut chance they had was created by James Lowe. A long, wind assisted kick out of defence was fielded by Rob Kearney in touch, and he took a quick line-out. Lowe got his hands on it and decided to have a run.
He left not only the Wasps players for dead, but also his own team mates. Only the retreating Johnny Sexton, returning after getting up from a tackle slowly, was in a position to receive a pass when the Wasps finally caught up with Lowe. But Johnny was not ready for the ball, or had an eye on the defender, or was still shook up from the earlier hit. He knocked it on. Chance over.
When the game’s real break through came, Lowe was heavily involved. Wasps lost possession in our twenty-two, and as per the game plan we decided to run it out, slamming against that white wall of defensive players and drawing a penalty.
Instead of kicking for territory, perhaps not trusting the line-out throwing in an unpredictable wind, Luke McGrath played it quickly. Leinster surged out of their twenty-two.
Wasps can feel aggrieved to what happened next. A game changer. Sean Cronin passed the ball to James Lowe. The pass was slapped down by Sopoaga; penalty and yellow card. But the pass was clearly a forward one. Had a try been scored from the play it would have been called back. You could argue that Sopoaga only touched the ball because it was so wildly forward.
Anyway, play on, thank you Mr. Poite. Lowe was involved in moving the ball forward when taking a skip pass wide on the left. He was too far out to finish it, but a few recycles later and Luke McGrath nipped over, getting the first of his brace on the night.
Let’s call something out though. Yet again there was a late hit on the try scorer that went unnoticed by the officials. McGrath had clearly put the ball on the line and his opposite number Simpson dropped on him with an elbow, perhaps trying to dislodge the ball. Dangerous and should have drawn a penalty after the conversion. Luke got back onto his feet slowly.
The Lowe Show
Things really got going in the second half with the wind at their backs. Although it took Johnny a few kicks to get used to the breeze, they kicked for territory more in the second half.
The try came almost immediately, exploiting the yellow card for a full fourteen points. From the line-out the ball went out to the backs. Lowe received an inside pass from Henshaw and burst through the Wasps right where Sopoaga would have been.
He had a lot to do to finish it, but he seems to have multiple gears. Rob Kearney was ready for a pass, slightly hampering a defender, but no foul play. Lowe didn’t need him anyway.
The crowd were getting excited at this stage. It was already an electric atmosphere in the stadium, as you can only get with the opening night of the European adventure. Add to the mix the Friday night game; the fans love them, the players prefer them. If only every game could be on Friday night.
Efforts to get a new chant going for James Lowe were struggling. Lowe-Lowe to the tune of the Two Unlimited song No Limits were resisted. As was James Lowe, Sweet Chariot. It just seemed wrong.
One American visitor tried to get us signing the Fields of Athenry. It starts OK: “Lowe lies…” but it felt wrong to use Connacht’s song. Maybe later in the pub. We’ll keep trying.
He is known for his amazing off-loads and fantastic try scoring, but he also is a great communicator and team player. At one point Nick McCarthy, just on the pitch, was the recipient of an unexpected ball, as the Leinster scrum won one against the head. He got swallowed up and gave away a penalty for holding on.
His head was down slightly as he got to his feet, but Lowe was over to him immediately, talking to him. Was he telling him not to worry, that it was not his fault, maybe some advice? Whatever it was it got Nick concentrated on the next play, no need to look back. Lowe is an asset in so many ways.
Once the dike was broken Leinster did not look back. Luke got his second on fifty-two minutes to secure the bonus point win, Lowe his second on sixty-one. Leinster were cruising.
That wind kept giving the Wasps trouble at restarts. They kicked it short, they kicked it straight out, I lost count of how many reset scrums were needed giving the ball back to Leinster.
Wasps did have a sustained period of pressure at around the sixty-five minute mark. It was a long way to come back, but perhaps they were thinking of putting some respectability on the scoreboard.
It shows a lot about the crowd’s involvement that at even five tries to nil up, Leinster’s defence on their own try line, and their ultimate stopping of Wasps advance, driving them back and then turning over the ball, drew some of the biggest cheers of the night. No one scores against Leinster in this sort of mood.
That was really the Coventry based team’s last chance. Back to back tries from Larmour and Henshaw, the latter after some deft handling by McGrath, were to make this a night to forget for Wasps. They were heading towards their worst defeat in Europe ever.
It did get worse. They conceded their eight try in the final play of the game. McGrath going over after an unstoppable maul.
Roll on next week and a trip to the south of France.