Tuesday 25 October 2016

Another great escape needed to keep dream alive

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen Leo Cullen has rung the changes for the clash with Bath
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen Leo Cullen has rung the changes for the clash with Bath

As much as this feels like uncharted territory for Leinster, they have been in this position before and come out the other side.

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In a pool that includes Toulon, the margin for error was always going to be slim but a slip-up at home in what would have been perceived as the 'easiest' pool game, leaves Leinster on the brink of what would be a hugely damaging European exit.

Should Leinster lose in Bath this afternoon (3.15), their fate would be all but sealed and the province can expect to take a heavy hit in terms of ticket sales for next month's clash against Toulon at the Aviva Stadium.

In 2009, Leinster opened their European campaign with a defeat (12-9) at home to London Irish but it was the manner of last week's humiliation at the hands of Wasps that sticks in the craw.

Six years ago, Leinster would go on to win all five of their remaining pool games and advance as far as the semi-final. It is almost inconceivable that the three-time winners would have their campaign ended as early as November but that is the reality they face if they don't come away from the Rec with a victory.

Leinster go up against a Bath side who come into the game on the back of having not played last weekend due to the terrorist attacks in Paris and their full-back Anthony Watson reckons that it could be a "blessing in disguise" for his side.

The Blues can take a crumb of comfort in knowing that Bath have never beaten them at home in Europe's premier competition but given the arsenal of the Premiership side, particularly in the back-line, it isn't likely to count for much with their backs firmly against the wall.

"The changing rooms are tiny, the crowd make a good atmosphere," Devin Toner said of the compact ground at the Rec.

"It's a great city to go to and a great place to go and play and I suppose if we go and play our game we'll be alright."

Leinster must be more than 'alright' however and with that in mind, Leo Cullen has rung the changes.

The biggest casualties of his selection are Eoin Reddan, Noel Reid and Garry Ringrose, all of whom are left out of the squad, while Isaac Boss over Luke McGrath isn't likely to have gone down well with some supporters.

Isa Nacewa returns and will make a marked difference at full-back while Ben Te'o will bring some much-needed ballast to the midfield alongside Luke Fitzgerald in what is an exciting partnership.

Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Rhys Ruddock return to bolster the pack, while Hayden Triggs will start his first European game, alongside Toner who admitted that it's been difficult to readjust after the World Cup.

"It is a challenge and there is stuff to get our heads around, switching from one lineout system to another, particularly as forwards you've to get your head around that," the towering second-row acknowledged. "Mainly it's just the calls and the different shape, plays and stuff. It is a challenge but a lot of us are very used to it these days coming in and out of camp all the time.

"I don't see it as an issue to be honest. I think a lot of people are saying there's a hangover from the World Cup but I don't see it like that, we're not looking for excuses, we had a bad day and that's it."

While Leinster have been focused on curing their own ailments, Bath showed in last season's quarter-final how dangerous they can be.

George Ford will pull the strings from out-half while outside of him, there is plenty of pace in Kyle Eastmond and Watson.

Skipper Francois Louw is coming off the back of a fine World Cup with South Africa but for all of Bath's threats, they have had their problems.

That the club wouldn't allow questions on the now-departed Sam Burgess in their media duties this week perhaps said something about the unrest they still feel.

Leinster have taken their eye off the ball already and a second time would be detrimental but as Toner maintained, players have stepped up this week.

"Obviously the leaders of the different aspects of the game meet a lot so there is a good group of core leaders in the team that will drive that."

The senior players let Leinster down last week and they know that if they don't deliver today, there are no more second chances.

They have, however, dug themselves out of a similar hole in the past and they may just give themselves a chance to do so again.

Verdict: Leinster

Bath - A Watson; S Rokoduguni, O Devoto, K Eastmond, M Banahan; G Ford, C Cook; N Auterac, R Webber, H Thomas; D Day, D Attwood; M Garvey, F Louw (capt), L Houston. Reps: R Batty, N Catt, M Lahiff, S Hooper, A Fa'osiliva, N Matawalu, R Priestland, T Homer.

Leinster - I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, H Triggs; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Reps: J Tracy, J McGrath, M Moore, D Ryan, J Van Der Flier, L McGrath, I Madigan, Z Kirchner.

REF - J Garces (France)

Bath v Leinster, live, BT Sport Europe, 3.15

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