Leinster's finished article is at hand
RUGBY:EARLIER THIS week Leinster captain Leo Cullen concluded that at least Leinster were creating opportunities to score tries, even if they were not finishing them. If inaccuracy was a problem at The Rec, the flip side was that the most difficult part of the equation was sound enough.
The secondrow’s view seemed to be that it was too easy for Leinster to take their eye of the ball by worrying about the aberrations of Rob Kearney and Seán O’Brien choosing wrong options with the line at their mercy.
If their obsession this week revolves around incidents that probably won’t happen again, they might meet the challenge soft on the more centrally important fundamentals.
Leinster will not face Bath this evening with crippling doubts about their ability to put the ball over the line.
In that light coach Joe Schmidt’s choice of Eoin O’Malley at outside centre is interesting because it suggests he is looking for precisely the type of player who has proven himself as a free-spirited try scorer.
Last week O’Malley was dropped for Fergus McFadden after scoring three tries in two starts in the competition and generally showing how well he is able to exploit tight space in offence. The 23-year-old is no replacement for Brian O’Driscoll as he brings a different set of skills, but this week he may be just what Schmidt needs.
Picking holes in the Bath line is one thing but as important for the young player is to rein in last week’s try scorer, the 6ft 7in, 18st Matt Banahan, who has moved into the outside centre position from the wing.
The back line is where the only Bath changes have been made. Dan Hipkiss, following last week’s collision with Isa Nacewa, is ruled out with Banahan shifting in, Nick Abendanon moving to the wing and Sam Vesty coming in at fullback.
O’Malley gets his break as Gordon D’Arcy’s minor niggle keeps him on the bench. McFadden moves to inside centre to renew a partnership that finished last Sunday’s game. Eoin Reddan starts at scrumhalf in place of Isaac Boss, lock Devin Toner replaces Damien Browne, while Shane Jennings comes into the backrow at openside with Seán O’Brien moving across to blindside flanker.
Bath last qualified for the quarter-finals in 2009 and need to return to the West Country with Leinster’s head to keep qualification hopes burning. But the evidence is against that happening. Leinster have a bullet-proof home record, winning their last eight games in Dublin in the tournament, while Bath have lost their last three away games in Europe.
But coach Ian McGeechan has largely stuck with the same team, sensing Bath’s run at The Rec was possibly as good as it has been for them all season.
Switching Banahan may allow him to get his hands on the ball more often, although, the movement of All Black outhalf Stephen Donald was largely lateral last week and Leinster easily covered their running game. If that’s obvious to observers McGeechan knows it too and Donald will be more direct and told to quicken things along.
The Bath pack competed and as Cullen pointed out, made his job challenging.
“Obviously they scored a try in the second half because of a turn-over which came off a lineout, so that was a part of our play we didn’t get right,” he said. “The breakdown was a real dog-fight and they put a lot of pressure on us in that area and made life difficult for our nines. We need to be wary of that ourselves and be a bit more clinical and accurate in the way we approach our ruck.”
If that happens and Leinster find their ripping continuity, Bath could be is in deep trouble. And a try for O’Malley? Don’t bet against it.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O’Malley, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H Van Der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, N White, R Ruddock, K McLaughlin, I Boss, I Madigan, G D’Arcy.
BATH RUGBY: S Vesty; J Cuthbert, M Banahan, O Barkley, N Abendanon; S Donald, M Claassens; D Flatman, C Biller, D Wilson, D Attwood, R Caldwell, F Louw (capt), G Mercer, S Taylor. Replacements: R Batty, N Catt, A Perenise, W Spencer, A Beattie, C Cook, T Heathcote, B Williams.
Referee: Romain Poite (Fra).