Ruthless Leinster quick to capitalise on depleted Bath’s frailties

Winger O’Brien becomes the first Leinster player to score four tries in a European game

Leinster’s Hugo Keenan goes over for a try against Bath, during the Heineken Champions Cup, Pool A match at The Recreation Ground, Bath. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Leinster’s Hugo Keenan goes over for a try against Bath, during the Heineken Champions Cup, Pool A match at The Recreation Ground, Bath. Photograph: David Davies/PA

 

Bath 7 Leinster 64

Leinster duly fulfilled the overarching pre-match remit by grabbing a bonus point victory in addition to a hefty increase to the points’ differential tally against a beleaguered Bath team that showed commendable tenacity and commitment but lacked the quality to translate it into points.

In some respects this Heineken Champions Cup tie was settled in the opening 15 minutes. Bath had possession and position within hailing distance of their opponent’s line but lacked the clarity and composure to breach the visiting defence.

The Irish province conceded four penalties during that period and were handicapped by some loose handling and offloading but once they recalibrated, cut down on the mistakes, they set about dismantling the home side’s defensive structures with ruthless efficiency.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen acknowledged: “I thought they came strong at the start, to be fair to them. They missed a few opportunities. They put us into the corners as we gave away a few penalties. We managed to hold out and hit them for two quick scores, then a third.”

Johnny Sexton put a better shape on his team’s attacking patterns and his vision provided a spark for several of Leinster’s 10 tries. Cullen smiled when asked if anything his captain does surprises him anymore.

“He’s getting a great kick out of the young guys as well. It’s what you want as an older player to try and enjoy it and still not lose your competitive edge as well. The competitive edge is what drives your own performance. He is trying to get the balance between enjoyment and competitive edge. He’s got a great eye [for the game], he sees so much.”

A gorgeous grubber kick and a cross-field punt from a quickly-taken penalty provided the pivotal moment in two of the tries. As he divested the rustiness of a first start since November, so too did his team.

Much of the energy from Bath’s bright opening dissipated when they lost two of their starting backrow, Josh Bayliss and Sam Underhill to head injuries within 70 seconds of each other. From that point on Leinster set about racking up the scores.

Jimmy O’Brien got proceedings under way and by the time Italian referee Andrea Piardi blew the final whistle, the 25-year-old left wing had reached a notable milestone, the first Leinster player to score four tries in a European game.

Indeed the back three contributed six tries with Jordan Larmour and Hugo Keenan rewarded for their general enterprise with one apiece. Andrew Porter was one of the few Leinster players to take collisions on his terms. There was plenty of heft to the Bath tackling, particularly that of replacement Mike Williams.

Leinster’s tight five worked hard and, while no one was immune from a mistake here and there, the back row were conspicuously effective. Josh van der Flier’s try scoring continued, cutting a great line when spotting that Bath prop Will Stuart was half a step out of line, while Caelan Doris and Jack Conan worked diligently on both sides of the ball.

Crashed over

Cullen also got to introduce the bench relatively early with the outcome decided, albeit that a couple of changes were enforced through injury. He explained: “Josh van der Flier was a little tight around his groin. Josh Murphy banged his sternum in the first half so he went off early,” neither of whom returned after the interval.

“Jordan [Larmour] took a gash to his face but he did unbelievably well to come back out there. I think the guys are generally pretty good.”

Leinster led 33-7 at the interval, O’Brien grabbing two, while van der Flier, Larmour and Ciaran Frawley, on as a temporary blood replacement, crashed over in first half injury time.

The only blemish was when Bath captain Charlie Ewels intercepted Porter’s pass intended for Sexton and gave Max Clark a try-scoring pass. The visitors tagged on another five tries in the second half, O’Brien registering another brace while Porter, Keenan and replacement hooker Dan Sheehan also crossed the Bath line. Ross Byrne kicked two conversions late on, one a beauty from the touchline.

Leinster replacement tighthead Vakh Abdaladze marked his European debut with a contender for any putative ‘handoff of the season’ title.

The focus switches to the United Rugby Championship (URC) next week and with Leinster as bulk suppliers to the Ireland squad for the upcoming Six Nations, Cullen will be hoping that they return intact and ready when European rugby resumes in April.

Scoring sequence: 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 W 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-halftime; M Deegan for van der Flier halftime; R Baird for Murphy halftime; 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)

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