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Analysis: How Leinster exploited Wasps

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Analysis: How Leinster exploited Wasps' forwards on James Lowe’s breakaway set-piece try

Leinster are the current masters of line running and deception, continually coming up with new concepts and finding ways to create opportunities for players like ex-pat Kiwi James Lowe.

In their Champions Cup opener against Wasps, they opened the second half by scoring directly from a first phase play, opening up a lane for Lowe who torched Wasps for a 50-metre try which put them 21-3 ahead.

The play they used was a variation of a common concept – using a screen pass before feeding the blindside winger back inside.

What makes this version interesting is how they create the mismatch they want by using a 5-man lineout, forcing Wasps to cover the loose forward runners in the midfield with their own forwards, which Leinster then used against them.

Wasps have switched up their lineout defence, using their halfback as the hooker and their open side as the halfback, meaning their actual hooker is defending out somewhere in the backline.

Using the 5-man lineout has dispersed Leinster’s loose forwards, and they have set up with two strong ball carriers, Josh van der Flier (7) and Jack Conan (8) outside Johnny Sexton in a box formation with two backs in behind.

To counter-act the potential midfield crash, Wasps have Nizaam Carr (8) and hooker Tommy Taylor (2) as the interior midfield defence.

Wasps are missing Sopoaga’s presence inside Carr, meaning Wasps are ripe for manipulation in this area.

Carr has to monitor both Sexton and van de Flier, trusting inside help to take Sexton, while Taylor has Conan as a first assignment with Robbie Henshaw (12) and James Lowe (11) looming in behind.

There should be alarm bells ringing with so many Leinster players in such close proximity. Both Carr and Taylor are bigger, slower players and more importantly, have limited experience defending in the backline from set-piece.

One of the most difficult jobs in defence for a back is set-piece, so sending a front-rower to do it is a tough ask. Throw in a missing flyhalf and you might as well give a team like Leinster five points.

Leinster will exploit this disadvantage in personnel and experience, executing their play perfectly.

Van de Flier and Conan hold the inside defence by running lines slightly angled against the grain.

Wasps inside defenders Carr and Taylor are locked in on their first reads, and Taylor in particular, bites and prepares to tackle his first assessed target Conan.

Sexton releases the pass to Henshaw out the back. There is plenty of time for Taylor to adjust but he commits to tackling Conan without the ball, which now puts Leinster’s play in motion to open up a hole.

Henshaw bouncing out ‘pulls’ Wasps inside centre Michael Le Bourgeois (12) with him, opening up the lane for Lowe between Le Bourgeois and Taylor.

With Lowe running at full clip, Taylor cannot recover from a stationary position too far inside. The rest of the Wasps inside defence have to find a way around Leinster’s traffic, so also cannot assist.

Taylor has been isolated one-on-one with the faster Lowe and without body-on-body alignment, can do nothing to stop him breezing past.

Lowe is one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the game, with power and offloading skills to keep any movement going.

He is able to hold off the Wasps defence by looking for support and fend off a last-ditch tackle attempt by Elliot Daly to score next to the posts.

Could Wasps have done anything differently?

They were already at a disadvantage being a man-down but the question has to be asked whether Tommy Taylor was the best man to station out in the midfield, and secondly, should they have split the two forwards instead of playing them side-by-side?

Only Wasps will know the right answer with inside knowledge of all their forwards’ measurables. There must have been enough trust to use the hooker as a midfield defender instead of openside Thomas Young, but they paid the price for doing so as Leinster were clever enough to exploit it.

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Analysis: How Leinster exploited Wasps' forwards on James Lowe’s breakaway set-piece try