Bath 10-17 Leinster: Irish province return to Champions Cup winning ways in Pool 2
By Michael Cantillon at the Rec
Last Updated: 10/12/18 12:05pm
A Jordan Larmour intercept try swung the contest and ensured Leinster got the defence of the Champions Cup back on track with a 17-10 victory over Bath at a rain-swept and blustery Recreation Ground on Saturday.
Having lost away to Toulouse in Round 2 back in October, the Irish province were under pressure heading to England's south-west and fell 7-0 behind when prop Henry Thomas scored from close range on 22 minutes.
A Sean Cronin try at the back of a rolling maul levelled the contest in the opening period, before Larmour picked off a reckless long pass from Bath out-half James Wilson early in the second half to quell the momentum and head of steam the home side had built up in front of 14,425.
A late penalty from replacement Ross Byrne put the result beyond doubt in the closing stages, with Leinster welcoming Bath to Dublin next week in Round 4 of the competition.
For Bath, after two home defeats to Toulouse and Leinster, plus a draw away at Wasps, their European campaign would appear to be over.
In a tight opening to the fixture, Leinster's first period of sustained pressure was ended by a superb Francois Louw and Tom Ellis breakdown penalty - something which would prove a theme in the opening 40 minutes.
Johnny Sexton passed up a chance for the lead on 10 minutes when, after opposite number Wilson was pinged for a high tackle, the Irish out-half missed a fairly routine effort off the tee centrally from 37 metres, hooking his kick off the post.
Bath were playing with superb continuity, offloading out of contact freely, making yards and performing intensely at the breakdown to generate quick ball.
On 19 minutes, a five-metre lineout chance was gone, however, when Tom Dunn's throw was adjudicated not straight.
Todd Blackadder and the Bath fans needn't have worried though, as three minutes later the home side were over for the first score of the day.
The Bath pack put immense pressure on at scrum time against the head in the Leinster 22, forcing Dan Leavy to pick up at the base. When the ball was turned over on the ground, Dunn made great yards up the middle, before Thomas barrelled over from close range for a deserved lead.
Leinster responded almost immediately, when a textbook wraparound in midfield set Sexton through a gap before Garry Ringrose picked the ball up and slalomed through. Once again, it was Louw who would stand up to end the attack of the defending champions, winning another monumental breakdown steal in his own 22.
Having been on the back foot for a lot of the half, Leinster would soon show why they are such a potent force at this level.
Past the half-hour mark, Noel Reid chipped to the corner on turnover ball, and when an isolated Joe Cokanasiga claimed it, Josh van der Flier earned a breakdown penalty deep in the Bath 22.
Sexton and co chose to kick to the corner, after-which an unstoppable rolling maul was formed - a set-up which looked menacing from the moment of its inception - and Cronin dived over to ground it. Sexton converted to level the match with Leinster proving ultra-clinical.
Six minutes before the break, Bath were extremely close to their second try of the afternoon when tighthead Thomas made a break through the middle of the pitch and when brought down, attempted a pop offload to the on-rushing Will Chudley.
Thomas' effort off the deck was too low, however, and the ball was lost forward and the chance gone.
The half came to a close with Leinster resorting to type - playing their multi-phase game. After some 23 phases though, Louw's third breakdown turnover of the match ended the half - and a magnificent 40-minute display from the Springbok individually.
A Cian Healy breakdown penalty on halfway earned Leinster an early entry into the Bath 22 into the second period, but their promising attack ended when Rhys Ruddock cleared beyond the ruck.
Bath attacked in reply as a sensational Sam Underhill take in the air off a Chudley box-kick saw them onto the front foot, but in a similar vain to the Leinster attack at the other end a few moments previously, the home side's encouraging play was ended by the concession of a soft penalty at the ruck.
The game then swung on 49 minutes as, out of nothing, Leinster notched their second try when a wild Wilson pass in midfield was picked off by Larmour, who scampered in from halfway.
Wilson then compounded his grave error minutes later when he passed up the chance to reduce the Leinster deficit off the tee, missing wide from 30-odd metres.
The sting and intensity from the crowd seemed to subside thereafter as the Bath players struggled to return to the fervour with which they had performed before Larmour's soft try.
Cokanasiga was fortunate to avoid a card on 63 minutes when he steamed into Luke McGrath - who was waiting under a high ball - and seemed to make contact with the Leinster scrum-half's neck/head region.
McGrath had stooped low after taking in the ball though, and referee Mathieu Raynal decreed it a penalty only offence due to mitigating circumstances.
Leinster kicked to the corner on 66 minutes after winning a maul penalty, but could not add to their lead as Bath replacement Elliot Stooke rose to make a vital steal.
It mattered not though as the basics from Bath's game had gone in attack, with knock-ons and errors creeping in at moments and in areas of significance.
Bath could not reach the accuracy and effectiveness in possession they had played with for the opening half, and when another ball was coughed up at a ruck in the Leinster 22, James Lowe hacked downfield, tackled Cokanasiga and replacement Jamison Gibson-Park jackaled to win a breakdown penalty.
When Byrne slotted it between the posts the lead was 10 with seven minutes left and the game was ended as a contest.
Wilson did dispatch a penalty from close range to earn Bath a losing bonus-point point, but the overriding emotion will be one of frustration for the Premiership outfit.