Launchbury, Haskell and Hughes return for Wasps' crucial clash
Wasps’ hopes of reaching the European Cup quarter finals for the second consecutive year have been boosted by the return of four key forwards for tomorrow’s Ricoh Arena clash with Leinster.
As expected, England stars Joe Launchbury and James Haskell are fit to resume in starting roles, while Nathan Hughes and Jake Cooper-Woolley are both named on the bench. In total, boss Dai Young has made two changes in the backs and three in the pack, including one positional switch, from the side which suffered last-minute heartbreak against Toulon on Sunday.
The main area of concern for black-and-gold fans will be in the centre, where the reliable Ben Jacobs joins Alapati Leiua and Andrea Masi in the treatment room. This means Irish prospect Brendan Macken gets a start against his former club alongside Elliott Daly. Another young player who has impressed in the A team in recent weeks, Josh Bassett, also gets an opportunity because of Sailosi Tagicakibau’s injury.
The former Bedford winger and Macken coincidentally both last featured in the starting line-up during Wasps’ opening day Premiership defeat at Harlequins in October. Last week’s man-of-the-match Guy Thompson’s toe injury has now been diagnosed as being serious enough to rule him out for up to three months, and he is replaced at No.8 by Sam Jones, the star of Wasps’ most recent league win, against Worcester.
Young is expecting a cup final atmosphere for the match, and despite Leinster being out of quarter final contention is expecting that the memory of their November defeat in Dublin will still be fresh in the former champions’ thoughts. “Last Sunday was test match intensity and a six day turnaround is always tough so this week has been about rest and recuperation, making sure we arrive at the Ricoh with a full tank, ready to give it our total focus and hit the ground running,” he says. “There’s a European quarter final at stake on Saturday and I’m sure Leinster will want to come and spoil the party. They were pretty upset after we won in Dublin and I’m sure they will come here wanting to put the record straight.
“We know we are playing against a wounded animal and you don’t win three European titles by accident. Leinster have a quality squad with internationals throughout, so we know how tough it’s going to be. The big thing for us is to finish strong, with a mentality that only a win will do – it’s a real cup final for us.
“We‘re hoping our Wasps fans will be really vocal again on Saturday; I can’t speak highly enough of the support we have received all season, particularly at the Ricoh Arena but also last week away in Toulon.
“Walking into the ground alongside our Wasps’ supporters was amazing, the noise they made throughout the game was outstanding and certainly the appreciation our fans showed the boys after the game when they stayed to applaud the players back onto the bus, was amazing.
“We really thank them for that and ask for the same again during a crucial match for the club. The boys will certainly take their support into this quarter final decider and will want to finish the job as much for them as for us.”
Leinster are captained by fit-again British Lions’ fly half Johnny Sexton, who is joined at half back by former Wasps star Eion Reddan. Experienced Ireland internationals Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney offer a big threat with ball in hand, while another British Lion, No.8 Jamie Heaslip, will be at the fulcrum of Leinster’s forward effort.
Wasps: Charles Piutau; Josh Bassett, Elliot Daly, Brendan Macken, Frank Halai; Jimmy Gopperth, Joe Simpson; Matt Mullan, Edd Shervington, Lorenzo Cittadini; Joe Launchbury, Bradley Davies; James Haskell, George Smith, Sam Jones. Replacements: Ashley Johnson, Tom Bristow, Jake Cooper-Woolley, James Gaskell, Nathan Hughes, Dan Robson, Ruaridh Jackson, Rob Miller.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Johnny Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore; Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock; Dominic Ryan, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Josh Van Der Flier, Isaac Boss, Cathal Marsh, Ben Te’o.
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