Jamie Heaslip: "That was the fastest, toughest game we have played all season"
The utter relief was etched across Matt O’Connor and Jamie Heaslip’s faces as they took their seats in the post match press conference and why wouldn’t it be; Leinster had just used their ‘get out of jail free’ card and advanced to the last four of the Champions Cup.
The sight of the Leinster players lying on the turf at the full time whistle spoke volumes for the defensive effort that they had put in and a visibly exhausted Heaslip was eager to put the pulsating contest into context.
“We’re going to rest up now because a lot of us were just saying that, that was one of fastest, toughest games we’ve played all season. That was right up there including internationals," said Heaslip.
Leinster have already improved on last season’s European campaign but Heaslip insisted that a performance like today’s will not suffice in the semi-final.
Leinster will take on the winners of tomorrow’s clash between Toulon and Wasps and with only one game to prepare for it, there isn’t a whole lot of time to dwell on today’s performance.
“It’s another massive game,” Heaslip said of next week’s Pro12 game against Dragons in Wales.
“It’s great at this time of year; it’s just big game after big game. We’re chasing top four so the Dragons game is huge and the game after it is huge in terms of the club and the group that we have.
“We’ve progressed (since last year), I suppose, if you want to look at it that way. I think we have a similar type strength in squad.
“We know when you’re at this level that if you make errors, teams are going to score. Especially against a team like Bath who have a lot of pace in the backs and very evasive runners.
“If you switch off, people like (George) Ford are going to force you to work hard and if you make any individual or system errors, they’re going to punish you and that happened twice.
“There were a couple of other times where they really did stress us and make line breaks. We didn’t back in the tackle, which made life a little bit harder for ourselves in the last 20 minutes.
“But we can take a lot of positives out of it. We stuck at it right to the wire, literally.
“They’re on our line 25m out in the last minute of the game and that was a little bit of experience and a little bit of the lads showing their character. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“At the next level, no matter if it’s Wasps or Toulon, we have a massive challenge and we have to improve on today,” the Leinster captain added.
Despite conceding two tries in broken play, Matt O’Connor was adamant that his side’s defensive performance was “quite good” while he brushed aside concerns about Leinster again failing to score a try in 80 minutes.
“I thought we were pretty good defensively. We played in the right areas. We took our points when they were on offer. The scrum was outstanding,” the Australian reflected.
“We thought we could get a little bit of pay out of that with the six front rowers that we've got in our squad fit and healthy and I thought we did a fantastic job at getting dominance up there which was pretty important in an arm-wrestle like today.
“I don't know if we made it harder on ourselves. We were a little bit inaccurate.
“You would like to get over the paint but the reality is you play what is in front of you and if they infringe you have got to take your opportunities at this level because it is knock out rugby and points were at a premium.
“We've got some work to do, no question, but we'll take the result,” O’Connor added.
Barring a shock result in France tomorrow, Leinster will take on Toulon in Marseille in two weeks.
Heaslip and O’Connor both know that improvements are needed but whether or not, Leinster can make enough of them in time remains the major cause for concern.