Bath 7 Leinster 64
Leinster qualified for the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup with a 10-try demolition, inflicting Bath’s heaviest ever European defeat at the Recreation Ground. Left wing Jimmy O’Brien became the province’s first player to score four tries in a single match in the tournament.
There is no doubting that the numbers are impressive, 10 tries to tag onto last week’s 13 against Montpellier, but it doesn’t quite convey the full story. Leinster’s playing rhythm was very much out of kilter in the first 20 minutes and against a better side they would probably have been a couple of scores down.
Bath just couldn’t avail of the opportunities presented and after losing two of their starting backrow during that period any confidence and cohesion quickly drained from their performance.
Leinster played in fits and starts but crucially when they did manage to put several phases together they came away with points. Sometimes it was a little easier, profiting from Bath mistakes.
O’Brien was excellent apart from his tries, in a backthree that contributed six of the 10 tries. Robbie Henshaw was perhaps the most accurate of the backline while Johnny Sexton will have benefitted from the run-out; the variety and accuracy of his kicking game perhaps the most impressive part of his performance.
Andrew Porter had a storming game while the backrow were not error free, they played well individually and collectively.
It was a curious first half Leinster initially sloppy, inaccurate and ill disciplined yet still managed to rack up five tries including a brace for O’Brien. Bath were gutsy and physically abrasive in the tackle but lacked the attacking chops to trouble the visitors particularly in the first 10 minutes when they had good purchase inside the Leinster 22.
The Irish province conceded four penalties in the first six minutes that drew an official warning from referee Andrea Piardi for Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Jordan Larmour was pinged twice in succession, not releasing in the tackle from the kickoff and then fortunate to escape a yellow card for not properly contesting a high ball when barging the catcher. Michael Ala’alotoa was penalised for not rolling away at a ruck, Ross Molony for taking out a Bath player off the ball.
Bath’s failure to capitalise meant that Leinster were going to make the home side pay at some stage. O’Brien had a try correctly chalked off for a pullback from Larmour on Max Clark but Leinster’s left wing was not to be denied on 15 minutes.
Bath lost two of their backrow to head injuries in the space of 70-seconds, number eight Josh Bayliss fell awkwardly when winning the race to a Larmour chip through and then from the ensuing scrum, flanker Sam Underhill caught a hip to the temple as part of a double tackle in defending Robbie Henshaw.
When the game restarted with a scrum the Leinster pack indulged in a little close quarter pummelling before Hugo Keenan did superbly to provide O’Brien with the try-scoring pass. Sexton couldn’t land the conversion.
Leinster continued to undermine their ambition with a lack of composure in possession, forcing the odd pass or offload. Two tries in seven minutes provided breathing space on the scoreboard.
Josh van der Flier ran a brilliant line after spotting that Bath prop Will Stuart was a yard out of step in the defensive line; the Leinster openside outpaced Orlando Bailey to the posts to score his third try in the last two matches.
Bath’s lack of control on their put-in at a scrum saw Leinster gifted possession and that culminated with Keenan putting Larmour through a gap and he raced clear to dot down.
The home side were gifted a try on 34 minutes as Porter’s intended offload to Sexton was intercepted by Charlie Ewels. The Bath secondrow galloped most of the way to the posts before giving a scoring pass to the supporting Clark.
Leinster closed out the half with another two tries, the first following a meandering run from Henshaw and a gorgeous grubber kick from Sexton with O’Brien the beneficiary to dot down for a second try.
Ciaran Frawley - on as a blood replacement for Larmour - claimed Leinster’s fifth in first half injury time, powering over from close range. Leinster retired to the dressing room with a 33-7 lead and when they re-emerged Larmour was back, patched up, while Ryan Baird and Max Deegan were summoned from the bench for Murphy and van der Flier.
Bath lost Gabe Hamer-Webb to a yellow card and by the time he returned Leinster had racked up three more tries; Porter burrowed over from a couple of metres out, O’Brien claimed his hat-trick following Sexton’s pin perfect cross-kick from a quickly taken penalty and Keenan crossed in the corner.
Cullen replaced his halfbacks and soon after the front row and the game lost a little shape for a while. Bath to their immense credit kept plugging away and were afforded a little respite when Deegan received a yellow card for taking out Spencer.
It was the visitors though that finished strongly, replacement hooker Dan Sheehan sent scampering over following a lovely reverse pass from Jamison-Gibson-Park. It was fitting that O’Brien signed off in scoring terms with his fourth try, availing of a kind bounce from Larmour’s kick through to dot down.
15 mins: O’Brien try, 0-5; 24: van der Flier try, Sexton conversion, 0-12; 31: Larmour try, Sexton conversion, 0-19; 34: Clark try, Bailey conversion, 7-19; 36: O’Brien try, Sexton conversion, 7-26; 40(+2): Frawley try, Sexton conversion, 7-33. Half-time: 7-33. 46: Porter try, Sexton conversion, 7-40; 49: O’Brien try, 7-45; 52: Keenan try, 7-50; 69: Sheehan try, Byrne conversion, 7-57; 76: O’Brien try, Byrne conversion, 7-64.
Bath: R McConnochie; G Hamer-Webb, M Clark, C Redpath, W Butt; O Bailey, B Spencer: A Cordwell, J du Toit, W Stuart; W Spencer, C Ewels (capt); T Ellis, S Underhill, J Bayliss.
Replacements: M Williams for Bayliss 14 mins (HIA); J McNally for Underhill 15 mins (HIA); M Ojomoh for Clark 50 mins; T Doughty for Cordwell 53 mins; J Simpson for McConnochie 66 mins; D Atkins for Redpath 66 mins, J Jonker for Stuart 70 mins; Cordwell for Spencer 70 mins; Stuart for Jonker 75 mins; W Vaughan for Cordwell 75 mins; Cordwell for Williams 80 mins.
Yellow card: G Hamer-Webb 45 mins.
Leinster: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J O'Brien; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath; A Porter, R Kelleher, M Ala'alatoa; R Molony, J Murphy; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan.
Replacements: C Frawley for Larmour (blood) 35 mins-half-time; M Deegan for van der Flier half-time; R Baird for Murphy half-time; J Gibson-Park for McGrath 53 mins; R Byrne for Sexton 53 mins; D Sheehan for Kelleher 56 mins; C Healy for Porter 56 mins, V Abdaladze for Ala'alatoa 56 mins; Frawley for Henshaw 69 mins.
Yellow card: M Deegan 58 mins.
Referee: A Piardi (Italy)