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London Wasps vs Leinster Rugby
Adams Park, High Wycombe, London
31st March 2007, 17:45

Leinster head to High Wycombe this weekend for their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Wasps.  They do so on the back of a mixed performance against Connacht last Saturday evening.  They started poorly and trailed 16-3 after 20 minutes.  However they rallied well and out-scored the men from the West 17-0 in the second half to record a 30-21 victory.  At the time of writing the Leinster team has not been announced but it's likely that the 22 will be unchanged from last week.

It's difficult to know what to make of Wasps this season.  Certainly they haven't played with the authority of the team that won the Heineken Cup in 2004.  Their form in the Premiership has been inconsistent, though it must be said they have suffered more than most from international absentees providing no less than six of the England International pack during the Six Nations.  Of those six players arguably the most impressive has been open-side flanker Tom Rees.  He's a good all round player and looks to have finally filled what has been a problem position for England since Neil Back retired.  In the final match against Wales he was partnered by fellow team-mates Joe Worsley and James Haskell.  It's a testimony to Wasps strength in that position that they can also choose from Johnny O'Connor, Daniel Leo and the legendary Lawrence Dallaglio.  Tom Palmer was another of the England pack and his rangy athleticism compliments the bulk of Simon Shaw well in the second row.  Their front row features two current international captains in France's Raphael Ibanez and England's Phil Vickery, with yet another current international Tim Payne rounding things out.  All in all, it's an impressive unit and they will look to dominate Leinster up front.

Not that their pack is the only danger. Irish scrum-half Eoin Reddan has emerged as a fine player since moving to England and Alex King is an experienced operator at out-half.  In the backs they have pace aplenty in the likes of Tom Voyce, Josh Lewsey and Ayoola Erinle.  Their home form has been impressive with only one defeat at Adams park all season.  They also emerged from a tough pool against two French teams Castre and Perpignan, no mean feat in itself.

So what do Leinster need to do on Saturday? Well they need to do what they know best. The forwards need to generate dynamic go-forward ball.  To that end they will be aided by the amount of natural ball-carriers in the pack.  In the semi-final defeat against Munster last year it was noticeable that Jamie Heaslip was the only forward who stood up to be counted in terms of ball carrying.  It's no coincidence that the four changes to the pack that day, Stephen Keogh, Trevor Hogan, Bernard Jackman and Stanley Wright, are all natural ball-carriers.  Wright in particular has been a revelation in open play since switching to loose-head.  Heaslip is scheduled to win his fiftieth Leinster cap this Saturday, quite remarkable for such a young man who only broke into the Leinster team at the start of last season.  However it's a testament to his consistency and durability (he's ever-present this season).  He had one of his quieter games last weekend against Connacht, but the thoughts of matching up against Lawrence Dallaglio is a big spur for him so look out for a big game from the half-centurion.  We'll also need a big game from Malcolm O'Kelly in the lineout.  After his injury Big Mal was a bit rusty last weekend but the sixty minutes will stand to him and we'll need him at this best in the set-piece.  Keith Gleeson was at his nuisance-causing best last weekend and his match-up against Rees will go a long way towards determining the result.  Ex-Wasp Will Green has been a focus before the game for obvious reasons as he was let go by Wasps two seasons ago.  He'll be determined to show them the error of their ways!

Chris Whitaker looked sharp last weekend and he's need to continue that type of form.  As captain and play-maker Felipe Contepomi will need to keep a cool head in the face of the aggressive Wasps rush defence.  With Brian O'Driscoll out, Kieran Lewis will continue to deputise alongside Gordon D'Arcy, who's the form back in Europe at the moment.  The back three of Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey and Denis Hickie will hope to continue their Ireland form, where they shared seven tries between them in the Six Nations championship.

So although Leinster fans are right to be cautious, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.  Because of the awkward location it's not going to be the normal Leinster trip so make sure to congregate at the ground early and get the songs going.  It looks like the Mewa Valley terrace is going to be mainly Leinster so it's vital for every fan to make as much noise as possible to get behind the boys.

It's going to be tough, but if Leinster trust themselves to play their natural game then they can prevail.



Team: 15: Danny Cipriani, 14: Josh Lewsey, 13: Fraser Waters, 12: Dominic Waldouck, 11: Tom Voyce, 10: Alex King, 9: Eoin Reddan
1: Tim Payne, 2: Raphael Ibanez, 3: Phil Vickery, 4: Simon Shaw, 5: Tom Palmer, 6: Joe Worsley, 7: Tom Rees, 8: Lawrence Dallaglio (c)
Replacements: 16: Joe Ward, 17: Peter Bracken, 18: Dan Leo, 19: James Haskell, 20: Mark McMillan, 21: Ayoola Erinle, 22: Mark Van Gisbergen

Team: 15: Girvan Dempsey, 14: Shane Horgan, 13: Kieran Lewis, 12: Gordon D'Arcy, 11: Denis Hickie, 10: Felipe Contepomi (c), 9: Chris Whitaker
1: Stanley Wright, 2: Bernard Jackman, 3: Will Green, 4: Trevor Hogan, 5: Malcolm O'Kelly, 6: Stephen Keogh, 7: Keith Gleeson, 8: Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16: Brian Blaney, 17: Reggie Corrigan, 18: Owen Finegan, 19: Cameron Jowitt, 20: Guy Easterby, 21: Christian Warner, 22: Rob Kearney

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-03-30