Sunday 20 January 2019

Leo Cullen's men 'lack punch' as he looks for improvement

Bath 10 Leinster 17

James Ryan on the charge for Leinster, trying to escape the clutches of Bath’s Dave Attwood (right), during Saturday’s Champions Cup clash at The Rec. Photo: Sportsfile
James Ryan on the charge for Leinster, trying to escape the clutches of Bath’s Dave Attwood (right), during Saturday’s Champions Cup clash at The Rec. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

This may well be one of those days Leinster look back on with a mixture of pride and relief.

They could well have come unstuck against a highly motivated Bath side hoping to turn around their season on the back of a huge performance at the Rec, but did enough to keep their noses in front. On a horrible day to be outdoors, never mind trying to stay upright and look skilful, this was good going.

Bath's Dave Attwood and Leinster's Devin Toner compete for possession. Photo: Sportsfile
Bath's Dave Attwood and Leinster's Devin Toner compete for possession. Photo: Sportsfile

If conditions are better in Dublin next weekend then it's unlikely to matter too much to Johnny Sexton, who hobbled off in some discomfort late in the game with a calf injury.

Bath, who may well prioritise the Premiership rather than Europe after this defeat, had got after him at every opportunity, but by the time he left the field the game was effectively won.

Leo Cullen was unable to give any clarity on the extent of the injury, but Ross Byrne will be short odds to pick up where he left off. As for the rest of his team-mates, the gap between where they were in this tie and where they expect to be in the second leg will surely be narrower.

"You need to figure out why you didn't play well, so is it down to us or down to Bath?" Cullen said afterwards.

Leinster's James Lowe is tackled by Bath's Tom Ellis. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's James Lowe is tackled by Bath's Tom Ellis. Photo: Sportsfile

"I thought Bath were very aggressive and made life very difficult for us. It was very hard to play.

"We were lacking a bit of punch in some of the collision parts of the game, both sides of the ball, so we were giving a little bit defensively and probably not generating enough momentum in attack.

"Add all of that together and, yes, we're pleased to have got a win."

Pressure

Bath's Will Chudley is tackled by Leinster's Luke McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile
Bath's Will Chudley is tackled by Leinster's Luke McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile

They were under huge pressure throughout from a huge Bath defensive performance, where back rowers Francois Louw and Sam Underhill were a menace at the breakdown.

"The chop tackles allowed them to get over the ball," Bath coach Todd Blackadder said.

"We really targeted that area. There was nothing between the sides, was there? I thought our loose forwards were outstanding."

Leinster's were less so. Josh van der Flier struggled to make a big impact and Leinster were better for the arrival of Jack Conan in the second-half for Dan Leavy, whose selection at No 8 ahead of Conan was interesting. Leinster's back rowers were regularly crowded out of their workspace.

Bath backs coach Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Sportsfile
Bath backs coach Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Sportsfile

"You can't have an efficient attack without an efficient breakdown," Underhill said.

"It's become another restart. Every breakdown is an opportunity to win the ball back or to keep the ball.

"It's not a complicated game. Either your support is good or it's not.

"Even the best seven in the world, if you don't give him an opportunity to get on the ball they shouldn't get in.

"It's not a complicated thing, it's effort, it's work rate, but you've got to keep that for the whole 80 and not just in patches."

Cullen conceded there was a fair chunk of good fortune about the try that put Leinster ahead in the second-half, and set them up for the win. Sean Cronin threw to a lineout, but saw the ball swerve violently in mid-air to his own side. It was recovered by Will Chudley, who reacted well, but his half-back partner James Willison threw a crazy ball across the face of the Leinster defence. And Jordan Larmour gobbled it up.

"We do get lucky, yeah," Cullen said. "The lineout goes crooked, Bath play from the advantage, referee calls advantage over and within the next two seconds they throw the pass where we're suddenly scoring the other end of the field. It's a big moment in the game, for sure.

"We talk all the time about the communication piece with the referees and how important that is, but it is definitely a big moment and we get a little bit fortunate there."

That said, Bath were fortunate to keep Joe Cokanasiga on the field when he clobbered Luke McGrath high when the wing was going full pelt after a box kick. On another day with a different referee he could have seen red - in this case he did not even see yellow.

"It depends on what way you want to look at it," Cullen said.

"Clearly, he connects high, but Lukey when he catches the ball is coming down as well.

"Is he coming into the tackle, depending on what person you ask, we go with the interpretation on the day and that's the nature of the game.

"Some people will say it should be a card, but others will say the officials got it right. We'll go with that, I don't think it was a straightforward call."

At half-time it was 7-7. Henry Thomas had put Bath ahead on 22 minutes after Chudley had disrupted Leavy at the back of a Leinster scrum.

They enjoyed their lead for only seven minutes, however, thanks to a perfectly mauled try by Cronin. It was the most clinical piece of play in Leinster's pressured afternoon.

Had Bath been able to hang on to the greasy pill once they got to the scoring zone it might have had a different conclusion, but they were hardly unforced errors.

"The big thing was the conditions - it was very difficult to play," Cullen said.

"We tried a few things in the first-half and we probably just misfired. I thought Bath were very aggressive, particularly in the first-half, but all through the game."

Bath - J Wilson; S Rokoduguni, J Willison, J Roberts (C Vuna 65), J Cockanasiga (A Davies 80); F Burns, W Chudley (KFotuali'I 73); N Catt (J van Rooyen 58), T Dunn (J Walker 65), H Thomas (M Lahiff 69), D Attwood (E Stooke 58), C Ewels (capt) (M Garvey 69), T Ellis, F Louw, S Underhill

Leinster - R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, N Reid (R Byrne 70), J Lowe; J Sexton (R O'Loughlin 76), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 66); C Healy (E Byrne 64), S Cronin (J Tracey 64), T Furlong (A Porter 64), D Toner (R Molony 78), J Ryan, R Ruddock, D Leavy (J Conan 54), J van der Flier

Ref - M Raynal (France)

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