Friday 15 November 2019

Unerring Madigan sinks Bath

Leinster's Ian Madigan kicks a penalty during the win over Bath
Leinster's Ian Madigan kicks a penalty during the win over Bath

Ian Madigan booted Bath out of Europe as they made an agonising Champions Cup quarter-final exit in Dublin, despite scoring both tries of an absorbing Aviva Stadium encounter.

Leinster centre Madigan's six successful penalties condemned Bath to an 18-15 defeat, although the visitors claimed touchdowns by England fly-half George Ford and captain Stuart Hooper.

Ford, back at the Aviva Stadium just five weeks after being part of an England team beaten during Ireland's march to the RBS 6 Nations title, scored a brilliant solo try and also made a break that ended with Hooper breaching Leinster's defence.

But Bath gave Madigan too many chances to punish them and he delivered a 100 per cent success-rate to book Leinster a semi-final appointment with either Toulon or Wasps, who meet on the Mediterranean coast on Sunday.

Bath pushed Leinster to the limit - Ford also converted his own try and kicked a late penalty - yet they were ultimately edged out on an afternoon when Madigan's accuracy made the difference.

The visitors threw everything at their hosts as the clock ticked down, but it was not to be, with Leinster doing just enough to remain in pursuit of silverware.

Bath, bidding to reach a first top-flight European semi-final for nine years, were buoyed by returning England quartet Ford, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Dave Attwood, with fit-again Wales prop Paul James also starting, but rugby league recruit Sam Burgess was on the bench.

Leinster welcomed back all of their Ireland Six Nations stars, including Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney, as they looked to take another step towards a possible fourth European crown in the last seven seasons.

The opening exchanges proved fast and furious but with little pattern as Leinster relied on fly-half Jimmy Gopperth's boot, while Bath provided early counter-attacking threats via Watson and centre Kyle Eastmond.

Heaslip then went close to touching down near the Bath posts, but, despite the visitors denying him, they conceded a penalty and Madigan kicked Leinster 3-0 ahead.

But Bath were not to be denied and they stormed back up field through their South African flanker Francois Louw, whose powerful break meant that Leinster resorted to illegal means in an attempt to stop him.

French referee Jerome Garces expertly played advantage, though, and Ford conjured a try out of nothing, leaving Leinster's defence leaden-footed as he sliced through an inviting gap.

His conversion attempt hit the post, yet Leinster responded rapidly as Madigan booted a second penalty before Bath had Watson sin-binned when he took out opposite number Kearney in mid-air, leaving Garces with little option but to brandish a yellow card.

Bath had to tighten up their discipline and Madigan did not require a second invitation to keep punishing them as he completed his penalty hat-trick.

Bath, though, did not learn their lesson, and two more Madigan penalties opened up a 15-5 interval advantage that meant the visitors had a mountain to climb.

Leinster suffered an injury blow within a minute of the second period getting under way as wing Fergus McFadden was helped from the pitch after his head made contact with Eastmond's shoulder. South African Zane Kirchner replaced him.

Bath's best attacking moments were provided by Ford, and he came up trumps again after 48 minutes as another break took him close to Leinster's line before he found Hooper in support to claim a well-worked try.

Ford's successful conversion brought Bath back to just three points adrift, but Madigan's sixth successful penalty gave Leinster a hint of breathing space.

Watson then launched another thrilling break from deep inside his own 22, only for wing Horacio Agulla to drop Ford's pass when the Leinster defence was stretched to breaking point.

Bath refused to go quietly, but in Leinster they faced a team that were masters of closing out tight European games - as their record in the competition showed - and the home side looked to reassert some control.

A Ford penalty six minutes from time gave Bath renewed hope, yet Leinster held out and left their opponents reflecting on what might have been.

PA Media

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport