Leinster 45 Bath 20
The victory may initially supersede misgivings about several aspects of the performance but when Leinster drill down into the detail it won’t camouflage what was an error strewn outing on the opening weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup. The second half in particular will make for a painful review process.
The home side appeared to lose focus and structure in the final quarter of the match and while that may be attributable to the raft of replacements, it doesn’t fully explain the plethora of errors. A crowd of 25,403 watched Leinster cross for seven tries in total and will have largely enjoyed the opening 40-minutes on the basis it was considerably better than the post interval fare.
When Leo Cullen's side were accurate collectively the dividend came in the form of tries, facilitated at times by Bath's porous defence. On an individual basis there were some standout performances, the frontrow of Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and man of the match Tadhg Furlong, were excellent, the pack in general excelled to a man.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Ciarán Frawley provided direction behind the scrum. The scope for improvement required for Friday’s trip to Montpellier is considerable.
Despite forging an 18-point interval advantage, Leinster played fitfully in the first half, assisted appreciably by brittle Bath defence. The home side crossed for up five tries, a tally that could have been even greater, but for intermittent lapses in concentration and execution.
Leinster had racked up a four-try, bonus point by the 24th minute, Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Furlong, James Lowe and Hugo Keenan all touching down with Ross Byrne converting three of the tries.
At that point they led 26-6 and Bath had openside flanker Richard de Carpentier in the sin bin; it appeared ominous for the visitors but Leinster lost their way a little with the only addition before the interval a second try for scrumhalf, Gibson-Park.
Bath’s belatedly found some ambition having previously been content to kick a couple of penalties through outhalf Orlando Bailey. It spoke volumes for their early mindset.
A peel round the front of a lineout led to a try for Bath hooker Jacques du Toit, which the young Bath outhalf converted superbly from the touchline. It was such a soft score to concede and offered evidence that Leinster had briefly switched off mentally.
They responded to an untidy start which pre-empted an early penalty from Bailey with a nicely worked try down the short-side for Gibson-Park. Rhys Ruddock’s surge around the back of a lineout was the forerunner of a try from Tadhg Furlong while Keenan’s no-look inside pass took a little finger-tip control from 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 in that the ball went to ground off Rónan 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.
There was occasional carelessness to Leinster’s play and that manifested itself again in the opening minutes of the second half as handling errors and indiscipline undermined ambition. Bath would have been happy with the respite.
It was to be short-lived, Josh van der Flier’s break followed immediately by another from Kelleher. The hooker wasn’t held by Bath wing Semesa Rokoduguni and was able to spring to his feet, carrying a couple of tacklers over the line. It was his last act as head coach Leo Cullen replaced his entire frontrow, to that point collectively the team’s outstanding performers.
A 10-minute fallow period in which the game became error strewn was brought to an end with a try from van der Flier, a fitting reward for yet another high calibre and relentless performance from the Leinster openside.
It was a cue for both benches to be emptied by the respective head coaches. The game lost shape, Bath deciding to adopt a sevens approach, Leinster dropping the accuracy and intensity still further. Referee Pierre Brousset decided he wanted some of the spotlight. As a spectacle it was turgid.
To their credit Bath demonstrated character in adversity and that grittiness in defence, albeit facilitated by Leinster’s sloppiness but the English side merited a reward and it came in the form of a late try for replacement Gabe Hamer-Webb.
2 mins: Bailey penalty, 0-3; 4: Gibson-Park try, 5-3; 11: Furlong try, Byrne conversion, 12-3; 14: Bailey penalty, 12-6; 17: Lowe try, Byrne conversion, 19-6; 24: Keenan try, Byrne conversion, 26-6; 29: Gibson-Park try, 31-6; 37: du Toit try, Bailey conversion, 37-13. Half-time: 31-13. 47: Kelleher try, Byrne conversion, 38-13; 57: van der Flier try, Byrne conversion, 45-13; 78: Hamer-Webb try, Bailey conversion, 45-20.
Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, Ryan Baird; Rhys Ruddock (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Max Deegan for Doris (blood) 21-30 and 69 mins; Dan Sheehan for Kelleher 48 mins; Cian Healy for Porter 48 mins; Michael Ala'alatoa for Furlong 48 mins; Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park 53 mins; Devin Toner for Molony 59 mins; Jimmy O'Brien for Byrne 59 mins; Tommy O'Brien for Ringrose 59 mins.
Bath: Tom de Glanville; Semesa Rokoduguni, Will Butt, Max Ojomoh, Will Muir; Orlando Bailey, Ben Spencer; Lewis Boyce, Jacques du Toit, Will Stuart; Josh McNally, Charlie Ewels (capt); Tom Ellis, Richard de Carpentier, Josh Bayliss.
Replacements: Tom Dunn for du Toit half-time; Will Spencer for McNally 51 mins; E Richards for Bayliss 59 mins; D'Arcy Rae for Stuart 59 mins; Joe Simpson for B Spencer 67 mins; Tom Prydie for de Glanville 67 mins; Arthur Cordwell for Boyce 67 mins; Gabe Hamer-Webb for Muir 71 mins.
Yellow card: Richard de Carpentier (Bath) 23 mins.
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).