Leinster blow Bath out of water
Leinster 52 Bath 27
Leinster came out on a bitterly cold but still evening in Lansdowne Road looking not just to take firm control of Pool 3, but to do it with a statement of intent attached.
As in, intent to take every opportunity that came their way, leaving nothing behind them but a Bath side sorely exposed.
A crowd of 46,365 came along for the show, fully expecting it to be just that, and went off into the night feeling they had got full value for their money.
It would take a biblical storm to blow their team off course now. Leinster are unbeaten at this venue, and more than that, when they move around the corner from the RDS they go up a notch.
This was very fast and mostly accurate, and the only pain in tomorrow's video session will be the tries conceded to Stephen Donald, David Attwood and Ben Williams in the final quarter.
Given Joe Schmidt's relentless drive for the perfect game these concessions will get more airtime than you would think, regardless of the fact that Leinster were home and hosed at the time. Imagine coming close to conceding a bonus point to a team who knew from just after half-time that they didn't have a chance?
There was lots to separate the sides, but perhaps the moment that summed it up best came in the first half when captain Leo Cullen was preparing to leave custody and rejoin his team-mates, having been binned on the say so of a touch judge for a casual slap on Jack Cuthbert.
Leinster won ruck ball 60 metres from the Bath line, and with two plays out the back, either side of a perfectly executed wraparound, they had engineered a clear overlap on the far side of the field.
The man they needed in that position had to be one their quicker operators, and Luke Fitzgerald fills that requirement. He exploded onto the ball creating a two on one, the other half of which was man of the match Jonny Sexton. Draw the man; make the pass; finish the score. And then convert from wide out for the perfect seven.
The smile on the outhalf's face said it all. It was the sort of rugby you expect from champions, part off-the-cuff, part from the training ground -- the forwards who ran decoys did it because they do it in practice -- and so good that it dispirits the opposition as much as it pleases the home support.
By the time Cullen came back on Sexton was running back from the conversion with the scores at 24-6. It will irk the outhalf that he didn't make it 27-6 just before the break, when with time running out they opted to kick a penalty, his second miss of the half and from a similar position to the first.
The rest of his game was top class. On 11 minutes he dropped a goal that involved either a change of mind from running to kicking, or the presence of mind to run 10 metres to get into range, whereupon he struck perfectly from a good 45 metres. That made it 10-3 in their favour -- they had got off to a brilliant start when Rob Kearney scored after Eoin Reddan passed cleverly from a ruck set up by the bullocking Mike Ross -- and even then you feared for the visitors.
To their credit they played well in the first quarter, profiting initially from leaving a pod of forwards outside, but as soon as they would get into the scoring zone the same pod would burst and the ball would spill forward. Still, they had enough pressure to pick off penalties through Olly Barkley, to leave it 10-6 leading up to Cullen's yellow card. That was as good as it got for Bath in the first half. Or indeed the second, come to that.
Needing a toe-hold in the game early in the second period they got stamped on inside 30 seconds. From the drop-off Leinster again went wide with a good pass from Fergus McFadden to Kearney, and once Fitzgerald got it on the wing he was gone.
Sexton's conversion made it 31-6, and then with Sam Vesty in the bin, Leinster scored again, this time through Reddan sniping from close range.
With 23 minutes left to play and Leinster leading 45-6 it got messy. Traffic off the bench was constant, and two yellow cards for Bath didn't help their cause. Interestingly, Cian Healy had to be replaced having come on at half-time. He was furiously gesticulating to touch judges at one stage as if he had been the victim of a facial assault. We'll see how that plays out. In the meantime Leinster forge ahead.
Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O'Malley, F McFadden (G D'Arcy 54), L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (I Madigan 59), E Reddan; H ven der Merwe (C Healy ht; H ven der Merwe 72), R Strauss (S Cronin 54), M Ross (N White 65), L Cullen (capt; yc 23-33, K McLaughlin 59), D Toner, S O'Brien (R Ruddock 54), S Jennings (I Boss 72), J Heaslip.
Bath: S Vesty (yc 50-60); J Cuthbert, M Banahan (B Williams 56), O Barkley, N Abendanon; S Donald, M Claasens (C Cook 56); D Flatman (N Catt 66), C Biller (yc 55-65), D Wilson (A Perenise 66), D Attwood, R Caldwell, F Louw, S Taylor, G Mercer (W Spencer 76).
Referee: R Poite (France)
Sunday Indo Sport