Leinster's Champions Cup hopes in tatters following defeat in Bath
Bath 19 Leinster 16
Back-to-back defeats has left Leinster on the brink of an early exit from the Champions Cup as a late George Ford penalty saw Bath inflict more misery on Leo Cullen.
The Leinster coach described last week’s humiliation at the hands of Wasps as one of the worst in his memory during his time with Leinster and today at the Rec, he saw his forward pack utterly dominated by Bath who bullied them from start to finish.
Josh Van Der Flier’s try late on looked to have salvaged a draw for Leinster who were second best throughout but Ford held his nerve to snatch a three-point victory.
Leinster trailed by just three points at the break but they were fortunate not to have been further behind as they struggled to get out of their own half.
Bath dominated up front with the Leinster front-row struggling all afternoon. Kyle Eastmond asked questions of Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te’o in midfield with the latter excellent in defence.
Johnny Sexton was far from his best once again but he put the visitors in front with a well-struck penalty from 40m inside the opening 10-minutes.
Leinster’s exit strategy invited the wave after wave of Bath attack with Isaac Boss and Sexton both failing to clear their lines.
Overlooked by England for their crucial World Cup defeat to Australia, GFord played like a man with something of a point to prove and his penalty pulled his side level after a questionable decision at scrum time from referee Jerome Garces.
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Ford put Bath into the lead after 21 minutes with a brilliant drop goal as the hosts began to gain a stranglehold on the game.
Stuart Hooper, who came into the side as a late replacement for Dominic Day, thought he was in for the game’s first try but Garces correctly adjudged that Matt Banahan’s pass to him in the build up was forward.
It was a major let off for Leinster and they almost hit back in style with a training ground move off the lineout that involved the impressive Hayden Triggs and Sean Cronin who made about 40m down the left flank before the move fizzled out.
It was a glimpse of what Leinster were capable of going forward but in truth, the half time whistle in truth couldn’t come quick enough as Cullen looked to regroup.
Ford extended Bath’s lead with an early second half penalty but Sexton pulled Leinster level with two penalties from almost the exact same spot, in six minutes.
Cullen replaced Cian Healy and Mike Ross both of whom struggled all afternoon but Bath’s front-row were still managing to force scrum penalties.
Ford had the chance to put Bath back in front but with 22-minutes left on the clock, he declined the three points on offer and instead kicked for the corner.
And it proved to be a good decision as Leinster again crumbled at a 5m scrum and Garces was left with little option other than to award a penalty try.
Ford converted to put Bath into a 16-9 lead as Leinster had 17-minutes to save their season.
Van der Flier, Luke McGrath and James Tracy were all sprung fro the bench and despite their inexperience, they hauled Leinster back into the game.
Tracy made a big carry through the middle and McGrath’s rapid pass from the breakdown, allowed McFadden to break down the left before he was halted.
Van Der Flier was first to the breakdown and he spotted a gap in the Bath defence and he didn’t need a second invitation as he powered his way over the whitewash for a brilliant try that Sexton converted with 10 minutes left to play.
Leinster then won a scrum penalty and after a brief consultation with Isa Nacewa, Sexton pointed to the posts. His penalty from just inside his own half fell well short though.
As they did all afternoon, Bath ran the ball from under their own posts and made 70m up field before they again forced Leinster into conceding a penalty at the scrum.
Ford stepped up from wide on the right and with one swing of his right boot, left Leinster facing the prospect of having to win their remaining four games without being guaranteed to make the knockout stages.
Alafoti Faosiliva was harshly sin-binned in the dying stages for an apparent high tackle on Dave Kearney. It mattered little though as the better side on the day deservedly won out.
Bath - A Watson (T Homer 77); S Rokoduguni, O Devoto (R Priestland 71), K Eastmond, M Banahan; G Ford, C Cook (N Matawalu 57); N Auterac (N Catt 66), R Webber (R Batty 54), H Thomas (M Lahiff 65); S Hooper (capt), D Attwood; M Garvey, F Louw, L Houston (A Fasosiliva 54).
Leinster - I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney (Z Kirchner 79); J Sexton, I Boss (L McGrath 68); C Healy (J McGrath 51), S Cronin (J Tracy 68), M Ross (M Moore 51); D Toner, H Triggs (D Ryan 53); R Ruddock, J Murphy (J Van Der Flier 65), J Heaslip.
REF - J Garces (France)