Le­in­ster fans’ ban­ners are banned at Rec

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Gavin Mairs at the Re­cre­ation Ground

Bath’s Cham­pi­ons Cup hopes were all but ex­tin­guished at the Rec as a con­tro­ver­sial health-and-safety ban on Le­in­ster flags at the sta­dium failed to dampen the Ir­ish prov­ince’s spir­its.

There was also a po­ten­tial in­jury scare for Eng­land, with Bath wing Joe Cokanasiga limp­ing off with a leg in­jury in the fi­nal minute, hav­ing ear­lier es­caped a card for a dan­ger­ous tackle on Le­in­ster scrum-half Luke Mc­Grath.

Cokanasiga could yet be cited for the in­ci­dent in the 63rd minute, with Bath’s direc­tor of rugby Todd Black­ad­der ad­mit­ting the 21 year-old had been “prob­a­bly a bit lucky to dodge a card”.

Bath of­fi­cials had sparked a row on Twit­ter be­fore the kick-off by con­fis­cat­ing 1,500 Le­in­ster flags fol­low­ing claims they have failed three health and safety checks, in­clud­ing a fire test.

Yet, some Le­in­ster sup­port­ers still man­aged to sneak them in, and the flags flew de­fi­antly at the end as a con­tro­ver­sial try by Jor­dan Lar­mour de­cided a gru­elling con­test that moved Leo Cullen’s side tem­po­rar­ily top of Pool 1. Bath de­served more than a los­ing bonus point, se­cured by a last-minute penalty by fly-half James Wil­son, given the fe­roc­ity of their per­for­mance. Yet hav­ing al­ready lost at home to Toulouse, they go to Dublin next week­end for the re­turn fix­ture know­ing they will be ef­fec­tively play­ing for pride.

“If we don’t win next week, it’s ba­si­cally game over,” con­ceded Black­ad­der. “We’ll go there full metal jacket.”

Bath took the lead through a try by Henry Thomas, and with Sam Un­der­hill and Fran­cois Louw caus­ing prob­lems for Le­in­ster at the break­down, the game was only taken be­yond them when Lar­mour raced over for an in­ter­cep­tion try in the 50th minute.

Lar­mour picked off a long pass by Wil­son and ran in from 50 me­tres just when the Bath play­ers thought they were play­ing an ad­van­tage af­ter Will Chud­ley had picked up a crooked throw by Le­in­ster hooker Sean Cronin at a line-out.

Le­in­ster direc­tor of rugby Cullen ad­mit­ted his side had been “for­tu­nate” with the score but in­sisted that ref­eree Mathieu Ray­nal ended Bath’s ad­van­tage be­fore Lar­mour’s in­ter­cep­tion. “We did get lucky be­cause the line-out went crooked, Bath played the ad­van­tage, the ref­eree called ad­van­tage over and within the next two sec­onds, they throw a pass and sud­denly we score at the other end,” he said. “We did get a bit for­tu­nate there.”

Black­ad­der in­sisted his play­ers were still play­ing to the ad­van­tage, how­ever. “We threw a spec­u­la­tor, and it ended up be­ing the dif­fer­ence,” he said. “That’s how it rolled.”

If Le­in­ster rode their luck, Black­ad­der ac­cepted that Cokanasiga had too. “I think the ref­eree got it right be­cause the player [Mc­Grath] was duck­ing down,” he added. “Joe’s a big man. When you see those pic­tures, it al­ways looks a bit dan­ger­ous. We’re prob­a­bly a bit lucky to dodge a yellow card.”

Bath still had op­por­tu­ni­ties to force them­selves back into con­tention, but de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Le­in­ster had more than enough class and where­withal to close the game out.

De­spite the best ef­forts of Un­der­hill and Louw and hard-car­ry­ing by the likes of Dave Attwood, Bath could not find a way through, and hopes of draw­ing level ended when Cooper Vuna hit a hard line only to lose pos­ses­sion. Le­in­ster wing James Lowe gath­ered pos­ses­sion and turned de­fence into at­tack with his clear­ance kick, even­tu­ally win­ning a penalty af­ter tack­ling Cokanasiga, with Ross Byrne slot­ting the kick to ex­tend the lead to 10 points.

The heavy rain just be­fore kick-off ham­pered both sides’ am­bi­tions to run the ball. Yet, it proved to be a com­pelling con­test for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

Bath had gone into the game af­ter a dispir­it­ing draw with Sale at home last week, but lifted their game sig­nif­i­cantly against a Le­in­ster side des­per­ate to re­turn to win­ning ways af­ter a de­feat at Toulouse in the pre­vi­ous round.

The sight of Bath prop Thomas charg­ing through the Le­in­ster mid­field in the first half proved to be one of a num­ber of mo­ments that lifted their sup­port. Yet Le­in­ster, famed for their all-court game, were not afraid to turn to their ba­sics, and af­ter Dan Leavy and Devin Toner had forced the ball loose in a tackle on Un­der­hill, the Ir­ish prov­ince won a penalty af­ter Noel Reid had found space be­hind the 18-stone Cokanasiga.

Sex­ton kicked the penalty to the cor­ner, and Sean Cronin lev­elled the scores with a try from a line-out driv­ing maul.

The game re­mained on a knife edge until Lar­mour’s in­ter­cept, which looks to have ended Bath’s hopes of reach­ing the quar­ter-fi­nals.

“We owed a per­for­mance like that to our fans,” said Bath cap­tain Char­lie Ewels. “The re­sult didn’t go our way, but they can see we left ev­ery­thing we had out there. We have proved to our­selves that we have got a game plan that can beat Le­in­ster. Now, it is about go­ing over there and ex­e­cut­ing it again, but it will be about win­ning the one or two mo­ments that we lost to­day.”

De­ci­sive move: Jor­dan Lar­mour sets off on his run to score Le­in­ster’s win­ning try

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