Bath rue missed opportunities
Published 04/04/2015 | 22:46
Bath boss Mike Ford insisted he did not want "a sympathy vote" for his team after their European Champions Cup campaign ended with a tense quarter-final exit against Leinster in Dublin.
Centre Ian Madigan booted Bath out of Europe as his six successful penalties condemned them to an 18-15 defeat, although the visitors claimed touchdowns by England fly-half George Ford and captain Stuart Hooper.
George Ford, back at the Aviva Stadium just five weeks after being part of an England team beaten during Ireland's march to the RBS 6 Nations title, scored a brilliant solo try and also made a break that ended with Hooper breaching Leinster's defence, while he kicked a conversion and late penalty as Bath pressed.
But Bath ultimately gave Madigan too many chances to punish them and he delivered a 100 per cent success-rate to book Leinster a semi-final appointment with either Toulon or Wasps, who meet on the Mediterranean coast on Sunday.
"Make no mistake, we don't want any sympathy vote here. We should have won that game today," head coach Mike Ford said.
"There is a lot of disappointment. The first-half performance, especially, we are a lot better than that. It is probably where we lost the game.
"We couldn't really control the ball and we gave away some penalties.
"We made quite a few line-breaks, but there is more than one way to win a game. It is not just about scoring tries. They kicked their penalties and fair play to them.
"But we are so disappointed because we are a lot better than what we showed today. That last 10-15 minutes, I was pretty convinced we were going to win the game, but it's small margins."
Bath trailed 15-5 at half-time, but they dominated the second period, with their England full-back Anthony Watson causing havoc through his mesmeric counter-attacking skills.
"At half-time, we talked about composure," Mike Ford added.
"We hadn't been able to build any pressure with ball in hand and there was also the discipline side of things. Madigan was pretty dead-eye today, which cost us.
"We put it together second half and I think this will make us stronger. We will look back at the end of the season at this game particularly and say this is where Bath became very strong.
"I thought Anthony Watson was on fire at full-back and George made two good breaks for our tries. It was in our control, we thought. Even at 15-5 down, we were confident we could win the game."
George Ford reflected the sense of disappointment permeating Bath's camp after they failed to secure a first top-flight European semi-final appearance since 2006.
"Irish teams are very good at squeezing teams and milking penalties and building a score that way," he said.
"We should have handled that better than we did.
"We wanted to play with a good tempo so we could make line-breaks and be a threat in attack. Ultimately, we need to start getting better at taking these chances.
"It was a three-point ball game at the end of the day, so we need to be a bit harsh on ourselves."
And Bath skipper Stuart Hooper added: "When you get to this stage of the competition, it is about winning.
"The disappointment is two-fold. One is obviously losing the game and the other is probably the individual mistakes we made, particularly in the first half."
Leinster, though, marched on in pursuit of a possible fourth European crown in seven seasons after they repelled Bath's strong finish.
"I was pretty comfortable before that last 10-15 minutes, but they came back at us very strongly and we were fortunate to hold on," Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor said.
"You are always relieved when you win a knockout game. It was always going to be tough and hard fought.
"We played in the right areas, we took our points when they were on offer and our scrum was outstanding.
"We were a little bit inaccurate in the second half. We fell off a couple of tackles, but up until that point I thought we did all the things we spoke about beforehand.
"You would like to be 20 points up with 15 minutes to go, but that's not the reality of the game at this level.
"They had nothing to lose, and they were going to make us work for every point."