Wednesday 20 February 2019

Victor Costello: Dangerous Bath one of the few sides capable of denting Leinster's European hopes

Patrick Patterson impressed on his first cap last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Patrick Patterson impressed on his first cap last week. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Leinster's convincing win against the Dragons last Saturday was the second in such a manner in successive weeks.

The main difference on the second outing was that it was away from home.

On paper, the Dragons looked to be in reasonable shape and when you add in that Rodney Parade is usually hostile, under normal circumstances it would look to be a tricky outing for such an inexperienced team.

Once again, that was not the case. The Leinster side strewn with underage graduates blew away an incompetent Welsh outfit.

It seems that this Leinster squad have a battle within themselves in terms of their personal performances as opposed to the opposition.

This was little more than a training run - not an ideal foundation for switching into gear for European rugby.

It seems that the future is very bright and that the success and celebrations will probably continue for years to come.

If it was a couple of years ago, the emphasis would be on the management to contract these players rather than lose them to other provinces.

Outings

In this case the last two matches allowed the recent academy players an outing in their future jersey.

Last week saw Patrick Patterson get his first cap. Patterson is a player who proves the efficiency of the Leinster youth and academy system.

His skill levels have brought him from schools rugby seamlessly through to senior level and there is plenty more to come.

In fairness, all the youngsters grabbed the opportunity with both hands but with European rugby this week, their next selection will have to wait a while.

It was clear last weekend that the opposition really didn't matter and this was a game where training-ground rivalries were played out in the PRO14.

The junior players provided the power and momentum while the senior players gave direction.

Back-rower Scott Penny is showing huge potential - his abrasiveness and work-rate will eventually lead to Irish recognition - but in the free-flowing blitz he forgot to contest the ball at the breakdown, leading to Dragons' first try.

So too with Jamison Gibson-Park kicking away possession five yards from the opposition line, his high tackle resulted from a personal battle initially away from cameras but ended up in full view and he was lucky not to be binned.

Leo Cullen and his management team can confidently return the young guns to stable and release his full complement of available stars tomorrow.

The reason for that is the step up to European rugby is more significant than it once was.

In fact, as much as one can revel in the individual performances of Penny, Caelan Doris and Conor O'Brien, who all relish the physical battles, in reality the more notable performances came from Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne, Adam Byrne and Scott Fardy.

Those international players controlled the game and managed the players around them.

The training intensity will have been increased this week, illustrating the respect for the opposition and the competition.

There is no doubt that Leinster are on a roll and confidence will be high, but Bath are a different outfit to what is normally expected from an English side.

They are a club with a long tradition that manifests itself in the middle of the city with all of its culture on display as a backdrop.

This backdrop reminds the club of their history and even though their Premiership form is poor, they will be less regimented and robotic than most of their English counterparts.

With the likes of the pacey Joe Cokansiga and now the prospect of Francois Louw playing at No 8, they will endeavour to get the ball to the wide channels in open play.

They run into gaps as opposed to trying to take out the opposition by running at players which makes them very dangerous with quick ball.

Capable

They are one of very few sides in Europe capable of putting a dent in Leinster's Champions Cup campaign .

The Rec is an enjoyable place to play. Leinster have decent history with Bath and for the fans it is probably the best away game there is.

If Leinster can win back-to-back against Bath, they are well on their way again but away wins in Europe are coveted and selection this weekend will prove that the front-liners will need to continue their form to win away from home.

Let's not forget the Girvan Dempsey factor either. Girvan, as the Bath attack coach, will know where Leinster are weak and as long as Leo's men secure a victory this weekend, they will learn a lot about themselves in the process.

Irish Independent

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