Saturday 19 January 2019

'We know we've got work to do' - Clinical Leinster set up mouthwatering January showdown with Toulouse

Leinster 42 Bath 15

Jonathan Sexton in action against Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton in action against Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Having endured some troubles on the road during the early stages of their European title defence, Leinster returned to the old sod last night and served up a reminder of why they will take some stopping this season.

This response to Toulouse's bonus-point win over Wasps earlier in the afternoon sets up an effective pool decider when the tournament's most successful teams meet for a lunchtime showdown on January 12.

Leinster’s Adam Byrne celebrates on his way to scoring the fourth of his side’s six tries in their Champions Cup victory over Bath at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Leinster won 42-15. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Adam Byrne celebrates on his way to scoring the fourth of his side’s six tries in their Champions Cup victory over Bath at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Leinster won 42-15. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The French kingpins are two points clear at the top of Pool 1, but Leinster will fancy their chances at the RDS if they can hit the heights they did during a stunning first half.

"They're travelling very well," Leo Cullen said of the resurgent Top 14 side. "The mix they have of big ball-carrying forwards who manage contact on their terms and get the ball away is classic Toulouse. Backs with a lot of pace, they're going to be a handful as well. We know we've got work to do."

Storm Deirdre took a well-timed rest as the game kicked off and the gap in the clouds lasted just long enough to give Leinster a 40-minute window to strike. By the time the downpour resumed, the hosts were four tries to the good.

"They were clinical," Bath coach Todd Blackadder said of the champions. "On any given day anyone can beat anyone, but if Leinster play as well as they did tonight - as clinical as they were in the conditions, pretty trying conditions out there, their game was superb. They're certainly going to be a handful."

Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster celebrates after scoring their second try. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster celebrates after scoring their second try. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Having had such struggles at the breakdown a week ago at the Rec, Leinster were given cause for concern when Francois Louw won a poach-penalty at the first contested ruck and James Wilson put his team in front after two minutes.

But they didn't have to worry too long, because it very quickly became evident that the home side were in the groove as they played with real intent and no little physicality as they dominated possession and territory.

"We were better around the contact area," Cullen said. "We knew about the threats they had in their team. But it's one thing knowing, another dealing. We didn't deal with it last week. We conceded a penalty and three points in the first few minutes, but overall we played with a bit more attacking intent and being able to move Bath around a bit more."

Johnny Sexton was at the heart of all of their good play and he orchestrated their response beautifully, kicking wide for James Lowe who got his side into the 22 where Tadhg Furlong pulled the ball back to his outhalf and he found Garry Ringrose who helped it on to Jack Conan on the left.

The returning No 8 went through Jamie Roberts as if he wasn't there to put his team back in front, with Sexton converting.

The second try wasn't long coming; Luke McGrath tapped a free-kick on his own 10-metre line and James Ryan put Bath on the back foot. Sexton wrapped around Ringrose and put Jordan Larmour through; the fullback stepped the last defender and found Rory O'Loughlin on his shoulder to score.

Again, Sexton added the extras but they found themselves on the back foot for a spell and were forced to regroup under their own posts when Louw forced his way over from close range after Wilson had put Jacques van Rooyen through a gap.

The outhalf converted, but it was just a speed bump on Leinster's route to the bonus point as quick thinking from Lowe punished a napping Bath defence as he tapped a penalty and crashed over.

The quest for the fourth try was unrelenting. Conan's intercept came to nothing when Sexton put too much on his kick for the chasing Byrne, while McGrath knocked on after a spot of basketball in the corner after a superb counter from Lowe.

The pack turned that around with a scrum penalty. Sexton kicked it into touch and, when the maul was hauled down, he hung a cross-kick up for Byrne to brilliantly rise above Darren Atkins and score on his return to the Champions Cup team.

Sexton converted and was called on again within six minutes of the restart as Dan Leavy followed up powerful carries from Ryan and Furlong to score his side's fifth try.

With the job done, Leo Cullen took the opportunity to run his bench early ahead of the busy Christmas schedule.

Bath took advantage with Underhill taking the direct route to his team's second try, powering through Cian Healy and Byrne with the help of a few team-mates.

Wilson missed the conversion and, as the conditions worsened, the game deteriorated.

There was one last flourish from the home side as Andrew Porter pounced on a Dave Attwood knock-on and charged forward, before Lowe stayed strong in the tackle long enough to put Jamison Gibson-Park over for his side's sixth and final try.

By that stage, the majority of the 40,261 were headed for dry land with the result long secured.

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