Leinster fans’ banners are banned at Rec
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