Le­in­ster ride luck on way to vic­tory as Bath be­moan missed op­por­tu­ni­ties

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

ONE of the many com­po­nents in the make-up of cham­pion teams is the abil­ity to ride out the odd storm. In front of 14,425 on a mis­er­able win­ter’s day at one of rugby’s great lo­ca­tions, Le­in­ster had to bat­tle to stay afloat.

More­over, their rou­tine in bat­ten­ing down the hatches some­times let them down. Still, af­ter an of­ten fran­tic game they were two scores ahead, and safe, when Bath got af­ter them for the last time, opt­ing for a bonus-point penalty from Jack­son Wil­li­son with the last kick of the game.

It was a slog — one fin­ished with­out Johnny Sex­ton, who hob­bled off with a dam­aged calf, and looks a long shot for the re­turn leg next week­end. Fur­ther­more, it was a slog in very dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, which might not al­ways have been ap­par­ent if you were watch­ing this on a screen. The day in Eng­land’s south-west dawned wet, but just as it looked like clear­ing up a bi­b­li­cal rain­storm ar­rived as the play­ers were com­plet­ing the warm-up. There­after show­ers were in­ter­mit­tent, and han­dling er­rors were a con­stant.

So too was the qual­ity of Bath’s de­fence. What­ever about Europe, where they are still win-less af­ter three rounds, they had hoped vic­tory here might kick­start a do­mes­tic sea­son that is fall­ing well short of the tar­get. Had they not blinked a cou­ple of times in the Le­in­ster 22 it would have panned out dif­fer­ently.

“That was Test match in­ten­sity out there,” Bath cap­tain Char­lie Ewels said. “You play at this level and you get four or five op­por­tu­ni­ties and you have to take them all — not one or two, which is what we did.”

Leo Cullen con­ceded that his side rode their luck. And never more so than when Sean Cronin threw a wildly crooked ball to a li­ne­out, some­how re­claimed by Bath scrum-half Will Chud­ley only for his part­ner James Wil­son to throw an in­ter­cept for Jor­dan Lar­mour. Only one way that was go­ing to fin­ish. It gave Le­in­ster a 14-7 lead on 49 min­utes.

An­other ref­eree would have gone back for the scrum/li­ne­out but equally an­other ref­eree could have red-carded Joe Cokanasiga on 64 min­utes af­ter he caught Luke Mc­Grath head-high when fol­low­ing up a box-kick. Ref­eree Mathieu Ray­nal saw it only as a penalty. So it goes. Cullen had no com­plaints ei­ther way.

“The game was lim­ited in terms of qual­ity be­cause of the con­di­tions but we’ve got a win away from home,” he said. “There’s a lot of growth for us. We talked about the chal­lenge for us try­ing to rein­te­grate play­ers and get­ting them back to­gether. It’s tough, es­pe­cially when you travel away from home against a team that is highly mo­ti­vated.

“There’s a hell of a lot of things we can get bet­ter at. I thought we lacked that lit­tle bit of sharp­ness in the first 20/30 min­utes of the game and Bath got a good few turnovers in that area (break­down) and to­wards the end. We were a lit­tle bit slow into that space — we know some of the threats they have so ev­ery­one is well aware of Fran­cois Louw and [Sam] Un­der­hill. They have other play­ers as well but those two in par­tic­u­lar.”

De­spite the length of time it took them to get to the pitch of the game — some­thing the size­able trav­el­ling sup­port didn’t strug­gle with, even with­out the 1,500 flags which were re­port­edly con­fis­cated be­fore the game on healthy and safety grounds — Le­in­ster might still have gone in with their noses in front at the break. The first half fin­ished with them camped deep in the Bath 22 and putting good pres­sure on the home de­fence only for Louw to poach from Garry Rin­grose five me­tres from the line.

For Bath to have trailed at that point would have weighed heav­ily on them given the rhythm of the game for most of the first 40. When Le­in­ster had re­sponded ear­lier it was with im­pres­sive ef­fi­ciency. They were trail­ing to a Henry Thomas try when at last they won a big turnover — Devin Toner and Leavy re­lieved Louw of the ball on the deck and Noel Reid knocked it in be­hind. Once they es­tab­lished a po­si­tion in the Bath 22 they forced a penalty, knocked it to touch, and then en­gi­neered the per­fect maul off a Rhys Rud­dock take at the li­ne­out. Cronin was in the box seat quickly and it al­ways looked like hav­ing a pos­i­tive fin­ish for the cham­pi­ons.

That was on 29 min­utes, a long time for Le­in­ster to wait for a score against any­body. They would have gone ahead on 11 min­utes if Sex­ton hadn’t seen a handy enough penalty come back off the up­right.

So 7-7 was fair enough at the break but twice in the third quar­ter Bath were turned over in the Le­in­ster 22. And it cost them. Ross Byrne added a penalty for 17-7 be­fore Bath’s bonus point kick at the death.

Scor­ers — Bath: Thomas try, Wil­li­son pen, Wil­son con; Le­in­ster: Cronin, Lar­mour try each; Sex­ton 2 cons, Byrne pen Bath: J Wil­son; S Roko­duguni, J Wil­li­son, J Roberts (C Vuna 65), J Cokanasiga (A Davies 80); J Wil­son, W Chud­ley (K Fo­tu­ali’i 73); N Catt (J van Rooyen 58), T Dunn (J Walker 65), H Thomas (M Lahiff 69), D Attwood (E Stooke 58), C Ewels (capt) (M Gar­vey 69), T El­lis, F Louw, S Un­der­hill.

Le­in­ster: R Kear­ney; J Lar­mour, G Rin­grose, N Reid (R Byrne 70), J Lowe; J Sex­ton (R O’Lough­lin 76), L Mc­Grath (J Gib­son-Park 66); C Healy (E Byrne 64), S Cronin (J Tracey 64), T Fur­long (A Porter 64), D Toner (R Molony 78), J Ryan, R Rud­dock, D Leavy (J Co­nan 54), J van der Flier.

Ref­eree: M Ray­nal (France).

Photo: Ram­sey Cardy

Tom El­lis per­forms a fly­ing tackle on Le­in­ster’s James Lowe dur­ing yes­ter­day’s Euro­pean Rugby Cham­pi­ons Cup game in Bath.

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