Monday 14 October 2019

Scintillating first half blows Bath away as Leinster remind European rivals why they are champions

Leinster 42 Bath 15

Adam Byrne of Leinster, centre, is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's fourth try against Bath
Adam Byrne of Leinster, centre, is congratulated by team-mates after scoring his side's fourth try against Bath
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After coming through a scrappy arm-wrestle in Bath last weekend, Leinster reminded the rest of Europe exactly why the champions remain the team to beat.

Since thrashing Wasps on the opening night, Leinster haven't been all that convincing in the Champions Cup, but this was a major statement of intent as they sent Bath packing to keep pace with Toulouse at the top of Pool 1, ahead of the French side coming to Dublin in the next round in January.

Leinster had the bonus point wrapped up by half time as tries from Jack Conan, Rory O'Loughlin, James Lowe and Adam Byrne left the hosts in complete control, before they ran in another two after the break.

The atrocious weather conditions didn't stop 40,261 turning up to the Aviva and the home crowd were given plenty to shout about as Leinster played some scintillating rugby and had six different try scorers.

Johnny Sexton typically ran the show as he stamped his class all over proceedings. The returning Jack Conan brought some much needed control to the base of the scrum, while Tadhg Furlong stepped in as play-maker on a couple of occasions – it was that kind of night.

Leinster dominated the contact area and with the pack setting the tone at scrum time, the platform was laid for Sexton to expertly pull the strings.

The skipper was helped too by Garry Ringrose, who continues to take a lot of the pressure off Sexton by acting as first receiver. In difficult conditions, Ringrose made it look easy while O'Loughlin alongside him in midfield showed why he is such a valuable member of this squad with a man-of-the-match performance.

With Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell watching on from the stand, there was a lot for the Ireland brains trust to enjoy as the front-line internationals helped bully Bath into submission.

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Leinster struggled at the breakdown last weekend and when Francois Louw won a penalty at the very first breakdown here, there was some early cause for concern.

James Wilson opened the scoring with the easy kick from in front of the posts, but that was as good as it got for the visitors as Leinster clicked into gear.

They got over for their first of four first-half tries after seven minutes when Conan powered his way over after some lovely interplay from Furlong, Ringrose and Sexton, who converted from wide on the left touchline.

Five minutes later, the hosts were at it again and this time it was O'Loughlin, who ran a really good support line off Jordan Larmour's searing break.

Sexton's added the extras for a 14-3 lead before Bath hit back against the run of play. Sam Underhill made a strong carry, which set the platform for Louw to eventually burrow his way over from close range. Wilson's extras cut the gap to four points.

Any hopes of Bath mounting a comeback were quickly erased however, when Lowe caught the English side asleep at the wheel with his quick tap penalty from five metres out as the Kiwi scored his seventh try of another prolific season.

Sexton maintained his 100pc record with the boot and then was the orchestrator in chief for the bonus point try just before half time.

The World Rugby Player of the Year had earlier tried to put Byrne away with a cross-field kick only for the ball to skid out of play on the wet surface, but this time Sexton's radar was deadly accurate.

Byrne still had plenty to do as he used every inch of his size-able frame to leap above replacement Darren Atkins in what was a superb showing of his athleticism.

Sexton's conversion rubbed salt into the Bath wounds as they pondered how they were going to fight back from 28-10 down.

It didn't get any better after the break and it took Leinster barely five minutes before they went over for their fifth converted try through Dan Leavy after a powerful carry from James Ryan, who was once again outstanding.

With the five points long secured, Leo Cullen looked to his bench and the game became scrappy. Underhill, who was comfortably Bath's best player, was rewarded for his tireless shift with a 52nd minute try, but it was scant consolation.

As the rain came bucketing down, Leinster were happy to punch holes around the fringes of the Bath defence before Lowe unlocked it again with a sumptuous off-load for Jamison Gibson-Park, who ran clear to score a sixth try.

Ross Byrne added the extras as he got another valuable 20 minutes in the hot seat. By that stage though, the contest was long over as Leinster's attentions began to turn towards the busy Christmas period.

Scorers – Leinster: Conan, O'Loughlin, Lowe, Byrne, Leavy, Gibson-Park 1 try each, Sexton 5 cons, Byrne 1 con. Bath: Louw, Underhill 1 try each, Wilson 1 pen & 1 con.

Leinster - J Larmour; A Byrne, G Ringrose (N Reid 70), R O'Loughlin, J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 61), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park, 61); C Healy ( Byrne, 53), S Cronin (J Tracy 53), T Furlong (A Porter, 46); D Toner, J Ryan (R Molony 69); D Leavy, J van der Flier (R Ruddock, 44,) J Conan.

Bath - R McConnochie; S Rokoduguni, J Willison (D Atkins 21), J Roberts, C Vuna; J Wilson (A Davies 70), W Chudley (K Fotuali'i 60); J van Rooyen (N Catt 47), T Dunn (J Walker 53), H Thomas (M Lahiff, 53); D Atwood, C Ewels (E Stooke 69); T Ellis, S Underhill (M Garvey 9-19), F Louw (Garvey 59)

Ref: P Gauzère (France)

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