Wasps hoping to avoid a 'cup final' slip up against Leinster
European Champions Cup Pool Five: Wasps v Leinster
(Saturday, 3.15pm, live on BT Sport)
JOHNNY SEXTON will captain Leinster for the first time in his career as they look to go down fighting against a Wasps side needing victory to qualify.
It’s been an unmercifully miserable European campaign for Leo Cullen’s side, who find themselves bottom of Pool Five heading into the final game. An away victory in the Ricoh Arena would give them something to celebrate, but it would have far more significance for Ulster were Wasps to slip up.
Following victory against Bath last weekend, Cullen has reverted to a more experienced line-up, though they will be without captain Isa Nacewa, who misses out altogether after picking up a knock last weekend. Richardt Strauss and Ben Te’o are named in the replacements alongside new Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier, who was included in Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations squad announced on Wednesday.
Sexton returns to the side in place of Ian Madigan, who kicked 20 points in the win over Bath, while Jamie Heaslip captains from the back-row alongside Jordi Murphy - who was left out of the Ireland squad - and Dominic Ryan.
They backbone a pack that includes an all-international front-row of Jack McGrath, Seán Cronin and Marty Moore, whose own future could well be on this ground as he mulls over a potential move to Wasps. Young centre Garry Ringrose, whose exclusion from Schmidt’s squad made plenty of headlines, is not involved for the trip to Coventry either.
Wasps could have left themselves in a much stronger position heading into the final pool game, but a 25-23 defeat at home by Bath last time out saw them slip into second behind Toulon. They have reintroduced England duo James Haskell and Joe Launchbury to the front eight, while former Leinster man Brendan Macken also starts in the centre.
Their opening round meeting stung Leinster. Two Sexton penalties were all they had to show from a damning 33-6 home defeat.
Wasps' director of rugby Dai Young is expecting to feel something of a backlash from that result: "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."
Wasps: C Piutau; J Bassett, E Daly, B Macken, F Halai; J Gopperth, J Simpson; M Mullan, E Shervington, L Cittadini; J Launchbury, B Davies; J Haskell, G Smith, S Jones; Replacements: A Johnson, T Bristow, J Cooper-Woolley, J Gaskell, N Hughes, D Robson, R Jackson, R Miller
Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore; D Toner, R Ruddock; D Ryan, J Murphy, J Heaslip; Replacements: R Strauss, P Dooley, M Bent, R Molony, J van der Flier, I Boss, C Marsh, B Te'o