Bonus point but plenty for Leinster to ponder after scrappy Bath win

Leo Cullen’s side ran in seven tries but lacked accuracy as opening European tie progressed

Leinster 45 Bath 20

Leinster’s victory will offer fleeting satisfaction when weighed against the performance, one that became increasingly ragged and disjointed to a point where the last quarter could have filled a bloopers’ reel.

The Covid-19 issues that disrupted their preparation may offer some mitigation but can’t fully explain a transformation from a bright opening to a dull finish in front of 25,403 supporters.

As a statement of intent on the opening weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup it was underwhelming in content and tone and when head coach Leo Cullen and his coaching cadre drill down into the detail, it will make for an uncomfortable player review process.

Scoring seven tries looks a reasonable return but when context is added it removes some of the sheen: four in 24 minutes, seven by 58 but none in the final quarter against a Bath side, heavily depleted by injury and selection and who have yet to win a match in either the English Premiership or Europe, reveals the fitful nature of the display.

Focus, structure, accuracy and cohesion gradually disappeared and Cullen admitted that the timing in springing reinforcements from the bench may have played a part. “We lacked control. Some of it is down to us as coaches, making some changes early which created a bit of disruption around that cohesion part.

“We become a little bit loose and lose a little bit of focus; lots of turnovers in the last 20-minutes. It didn’t particularly suit us. It was a pity that we didn’t kick on a little bit more.” The opportunity to rattle up a bigger points’ differential vanished beneath a plethora of errors.

The home side played some good rugby in the opening half an hour, pummelling the visitors into conceding tries

Leinster’s work at the set piece and the breakdown offered a microcosm of the performance, good and bad. Cullen explained: “Definitely, yeah, but it was across the board, we were a little bit loose. It’s that lapse in concentration, one scrum going forward and not the next, the referee making a decision.

“In a tight affair they are massive so we need to make sure we get all those right. We had way too many turnovers as well, particularly in the second half, so we just need to tighten up our game across the board, fit into what we are trying to do.”

It wasn’t relentlessly negative in performance terms from a Leinster perspective; the home side played some good rugby in the opening half an hour, pummelling the visitors into conceding tries, some of which scored on foot of brittle defence, others well crafted.

Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and man of the match Tadhg Furlong were in the vanguard of a decent effort from the pack, while scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park chipped in with a couple of tries and along with Ciarán Frawley provided intelligent direction.

Leinster amassed a four-try bonus point by the 24th minute, the first a nicely worked try down the shortside for Gibson-Park. Rhys Ruddock's surge around the back of a lineout was the principal catalyst in Furlong's try, while Hugo Keenan's no-look inside pass, took a little finger-tip control from James Lowe before the wing grounded the ball.

Lowe then returned the favour with a well disguised short pass to put the Leinster fullback through a hole and over for a try. Gibson-Park's second was slightly unorthodox, a pass rebounding off Kelleher's backside but the hooker was quickest to react, pushing through a couple of feeble tackle attempts. Ross Byrne was in support to supply the scoring pass.

Kelleher and van der Flier were rewarded for the quality of their work with second half tries while Bath scored the final try in both the first and second half through Jacques du Toit and Gabe Hamer-Webb respectively, their other points coming through the boot of young outhalf Orlando Bailey.

The focus now turns to Montpellier with a short six-day turnaround. The French club sent a scratch side to Exeter where they were hammered 42-6 but Cullen expects them to be fully loaded for Friday night’s game at home.

That's important that we do that, impose our game on the opposition. That's the challenge for us

“They are very pragmatic in the way they play based around forward power and momentum so we will need to get ourselves right for that physical confrontation. They have some big bodies that are used to playing big bodies week in and week out in the Top 14.

“They kick the ball a lot as well so we need to be ready for that aerial challenge that we think will come.” Cullen said that there will be a couple of players who will come back into the selection mix for the trip to France.

His priority in the interim is to ensure that the team is mentally and physically attuned for what will be a much, much tougher assignment. “It’s about bringing that level of intensity so we can impose our game. I thought we did that for large parts of the first-half in particular and you are making it difficult for teams to play against us.

“That’s important that we do that, impose our game on the opposition. That’s the challenge for us. It’s one thing doing it at home in the Aviva and another away from home at nine o’clock on a Friday night in Montpellier.”

SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Bailey pen, 0-3; 4: Gibson-Park try, 5-3; 11: Furlong try, Byrne con, 12-3; 14: Bailey pen, 12-6; 17: Lowe try, Byrne con, 19-6; 24: Keenan try, Byrne con, 26-6; 29: Gibson-Park try, 31-6; 37: Du Toit try, Bailey con, 37-13. Half-time: 31-13. 47: Kelleher try, Byrne con, 38-13; 57: Van der Flier try, Byrne con, 45-13; 78: Hamer-Webb try, Bailey con, 45-20.

LEINSTER: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, R Baird; R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: M Deegan for Doris (blood, 21-30 and 69 mins); D Sheehan for Kelleher, C Healy for Porter, M Ala'alatoa for Furlong (all 48); L McGrath for Gibson-Park (53); D Toner for Molony, J O'Brien for Byrne, T O'Brien for Ringrose (all 59).

BATH: T de Glanville; S Rokoduguni, W Butt, M Ojomoh, W Muir; O Bailey, B Spencer; L Boyce, J du Toit, W Stuart; J McNally, C Ewels (capt); T Ellis, R de Carpentier, J Bayliss.

Replacements: T Dunn for Du Toit (half-time); W Spencer for McNally (51 mins); E Richards for Bayliss, D Rae for Stuart (both 59); J Simpson for B Spencer, T Prydie for De Glanville, A Cordwell for Boyce (all 67); G Hamer-Webb for Muir (71).

Yellow card: Richard de Carpentier (23 mins).

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

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