Match Report – Heineken Cup Round 4
Leinster 52-27 Bath
17th December @ Aviva Stadium
Leinster blew Bath away with a scintillating 60 minute performance in front of a 46,365 crowd at the Aviva. This performance clearly marks Leinster out as one of the favourites for the tournament. While the last 20 minutes of the game saw Leinster thoughts turn to their Christmas party, the display up until that point was as complete as it possibly could have been. Dominant set-piece, crisp handling, exhilarating pace and aggressive defence were all part of the package. With so many of the Leinster players in top form, Bath never had a hope.
The match was over as a contest within 30 minutes, as Leinster blitzed Bath early on. Rob Kearney gave the home side the lead after just 3 minutes. Jonathan Sexton’s penalty effort came off the post and Devin Toner was quickest to react, using his height to claim the bouncing ball. Leinster recycled and Eoin Reddan’s clever flick pass caught Bath unaware and allowed Kearney to dive over. Sexton added the conversion for a promising start.
Ex-England centre Olly Barkley got Bath back into the game with two penalties, but in between Sexton came up with a fantastic drop goal to keep the scoreboard ticking over for Leinster. Bath fullback Sam Vesty’s clearance kick was straight down Sexton’s throat and he had more than enough time on the ball to smack home the drop goal from 45 metres out.
Leo Cullen was sent to the sin-bin for a punch but that didn’t effect Leinster in the slightest. Their next try came from an unexpected source. 6′ 10″ second-row Toner dummied and then made a lovely one-handed offload to Kearney, who drew the last defender and put Luke Fitzgerald over for the try. It was a subtle, surprising piece of play from Toner, part of a strong display by the 25-year-old. Sexton was on target with the conversion to give Leinster a 17-6 lead.
Next to cross the tryline was Sexton himself after another passage of sumptuous Leinster play. Sexton used the Leinster trademark loop off Jennings to give McFadden the space to send Fitzgerald speeding down the left-hand touchline. He drew in the covering defender and Sexton was on his inside to take the scoring pass and stride over. Sexton converted his own try as Cullen returned to the pitch. Leinster has scored 14 unanswered points while their captain took a breather.
Following half-time, Leinster picked up immediately from where they had left off. Directly from the kick-off, they shifted the ball from right to left, through the hands. A beautiful skip pass from McFadden allowed Kearney to use his footwork, fix the outside defender and hit Fitzgerald, just outside Leinster’s own 22. Fitzgerald did the rest as he beat two defenders and showed a tremendous burst of pace to go the length of the field. Once again, Sexton knocked over the conversion.
Scrumhalf Reddan got a deserved try ten minutes later as he sniped over from close range following strong carries from Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. Sexton added the extras. Any hope of a Bath revival was extinguished as first Vesty and then Chris Billar were yellow-carded. Replacement back-row Rhys Ruddock got Leinster’s 6th try when he went through a weak tackle after Kearney had made the initial break. Sexton was on target with his conversion.
With a whole raft of changes to the Leinster team, their focus started to slip in the last quarter as Bath tried to restore some pride. All Blacks World Cup winner Stephen Donald went through Eoin O’Malley’s tackle to get Bath’s first score of the second half. Barkley nailed the conversion from out to the right. Bath second-row Dave Attwood crossed next for Bath, with Barkley again successful with the conversion.
Leinster briefly awoke as O’Malley cleverly took a quick lineout in the Bath 22, and Jamie Heaslip surged up the middle. Isaac Boss then hit fellow replacement Ian Madigan, who stepped inside a tackle to dot down. Isa Nacewa took over the kicking duties and duly slotted the easy conversion. The game ended with another try for Bath as they won the restart and eventually substitute Ben Williams went through some uninterested tackles to touch down. Barkley knocked over the conversion with the last act of the game.
The true measure of this Leinster side lies in the fact that they will be frustrated with their performance in the last quarter of this clash. If they can consistently match the levels they hit in the first 60 minutes at the Aviva then most teams will find it extremely difficult to stay with them. Leinster now have a comfortable 6 point lead at the top of Pool 3. If they maintain this form, you would have to fancy them to wrap things up when they travel to Glasgow on the second weekend of January.
Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O’Malley, F McFadden (G D’Arcy, 53), L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (I Madigan, 59), E Reddan; H Van Der Merwe (C Healy, H-T), R Strauss (S Cronin, 53), M Ross (N White, 65), L Cullen (capt, K McLaughlin, 59), D Toner, S O’Brien (R Ruddock, 53), J Heaslip, S Jennings (I Boss, 78).
Bath: S Vesty; J Cuthbert (B Williams, 56), M Banahan, O Barkley, N Abendanon; S Donald (T Heathcote, 68), M Claassens (C Cook, 56); D Flatman, C Biller (R Batty, 67), D Wilson, D Attwood, R Caldwell, F Louw (capt), S Taylor (A Beattie, 53) G Mercer.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Photos courtesy: M+MD