Wednesday 23 January 2019

Conditions will make life tricky but Leinster need bonus point to keep on track

Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Second in the pool, Leinster remain in control of their own destiny and will view this evening's return clash against Bath as a chance to launch their assault on the quarter-finals.

If things go to plan for leaders Toulouse against Wasps this afternoon, the European champions could be seven points behind come kick-off.

Their fellow four-time winners visit Dublin after Christmas in what is shaping up as a pool decider and the boys in blue know the importance of being in the strongest possible position ahead of that game.

This evening at the Aviva Stadium they welcome a Bath team that has opted against fielding a weakened side and retain an outside chance of progressing; a side that caused them plenty of heartache at the Rec.

And while they'll be happy to be back in Dublin, the torrential rain forecast is no good to the home side's desire for tries.

The pitch will hold up well, but the handling will be difficult. It may be a day for the forwards to make a point after being outmuscled in the first game.

"We need to understand that sometimes you need to roll your sleeves up and do what needs to be done on any given day," Leo Cullen said.

"It's not our intention, we go out to play with attacking intent all the time but even in the game last year (against Exeter Chiefs), it was both teams going fully at it. It was an unbelievably physical affair.

"That's what people want to come and see as well. There wasn't that many tries in the game last year, we scored one and Exeter scored two, but it was a pretty enthralling game. It was a great advert for the game, the way both sets of players went at the game.

"That's what we expect again, we expect the same from Bath.

Pressure "We know that they are under a different type of pressure for themselves and we saw how that manifested itself in last week's performance again and we expect something very, very similar."

Jack Conan's return to the No 8 slot offers security and the potential for go-forward, with Dan Leavy likely to enjoy the evening more in the No 6 shirt.

Rob Kearney will be a loss and Bath will look to test Jordan Larmour's back-field cover, while Adam Byrne has a huge chance on the right wing. Rory O'Loughlin will be asked to up the physicality in midfield after being preferred to Noel Reid.

Playing opposite Jamie Roberts, the Dubliner will play a big role in managing the gain-line.

Todd Blackadder makes two changes to his Bath side as Cooper Vuna replaces the injured Joe Cokanasiga on the left wing, while Jacques van Rooyen starts at loosehead.

Last week's game was all about the breakdown and you can be sure Sam Underhill and Francois Louw have featured heavily in Leinster's preparation.

Between the ball-carriers and the first-arrivers at the ruck, there will be a major focus on negating the influence of the twin threats over the ball.

They barely showed it last week, but Leinster are a much better team than Bath and in front of more than 43,000 supporters at the national stadium they'll hope to ram that advantage home. The conditions will be a leveller, but the champions have the class to get the job done.

Irish Independent

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