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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 21 January, 2019
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Sexton on song as Leinster hit their straps to blitz Bath at the Aviva

Leo Cullen’s side produced a much-improved performance to run in six tries at the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster 42

Bath 15

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

THIS WAS MUCH more like it from the European champions, as Leinster channelled all the frustrations of last week’s imperfections into the type of dominant, breathless performance we’ve come to expect, running in six tries to blitz Bath. 

There was never any danger of Leo Cullen’s side taking a back step here, as they turned the tables on the Premiership visitors to utterly dominate in all facets of the contest, sealing an important bonus-point win in Pool 1. 

Rory O’Loughlin celebrates scoring a try with Adam Byrne, Luke McGrath and Devin Toner Leinster celebrate Rory O'Loughlin's first-half try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cullen spoke yesterday about the need for his side to tailor their game to suit the conditions, and despite the heavy wind and rain which battered the capital for much of the day, Leinster were at their ruthless best to nullify all the variables.

Bath arrived fully locked and loaded, as promised by Todd Blackadder, and although they brought huge linespeed in defence in the first half in particular, Leinster’s sustained pressure was simply too much to contain.

Johnny Sexton was at his masterful best in pulling the strings behind a pack which ensured clean and quality service to earn Leinster the right to go wide, where their lightning backline caused untold damage.

Jack Conan, Rory O’Loughlin, who was named man of the match, James Lowe and Adam Byrne all crossed in the first half to seal the try-scoring bonus point, and the evening was embellished by further scores from Dan Leavy and Jamison Gibson-Park after the break.

Having enjoyed the upper hand in the trenches at the Rec last weekend, Bath were given a taste of their own medicine in front of 40,261 at the Aviva Stadium, as Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Conan won almost every collision, blasting holes left, right and centre.

It laid the platform for Sexton to orchestrate the contest, and that he duly did, with the out-half also faultless from the tee as he added five conversions, despite the blustery conditions.

Five European points sees Leinster build further momentum heading into the Christmas inter-pros, but also critically ensures they keep pace with Toulouse, who recorded a big win over Wasps earlier in the day, to stay two points ahead at the summit of Pool 1.

It sets it up rather nicely for the round five meeting of the sides at the RDS in early January, with that game having all the makings of a pool decider after Leinster got the job done in typically satisfying and clinical fashion here.

The narrative of these December back-to-backs doesn’t necessarily follow that away wins are the precursor to a routine home win seven days later, but Leinster ensured there would be no costly slip-up this year.

It didn’t take long for them to hit their straps, even if it was Bath who took an early lead on the scoreboard, as Francois Louw briefly threatened to resume normal service at the breakdown.

Bath’s Springbok got over Byrne and the ball in the first ruck contest of the game, forcing the Leinster winger — making his first European appearance since last October — to hold on and concede the penalty, allowing James Wilson open the scoring from the tee.

Jordan Larmour and Ruaridh McConnochie Larmour was brilliant for Leinster again. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Leinster were not prepared to be bullied, however, and Leavy was quick to return the favour, winning turnover ball for the hosts on the right, which laid the platform for Sexton to look cross-field for Lowe on this near side after successive shoves from the pack.

Lowe, as he always does, made yards and quick ball allowed Leinster execute their first loop move of the match, as Furlong stood at first receiver, offloading out the back to Sexton who in turn hit Garry Ringrose, who again was in a class of his own. 

Conan, restored to the starting XV as one of three changes from last week, showed immense strength to burst through the tackles of Jamie Roberts and Semesa Rokoduguni, before the number eight’s momentum took him over the line from five yards out.

Utterly dominant at scrum time, Leinster’s second score wasn’t long in coming. Another big shove on halfway earned the free-kick against the head, as Ryan made a booming carry up the centre, simply bouncing off the Bath tackle attempts.

No issues at the breakdown this week, as McGrath delivered clean and crisp service for another outstanding wraparound move between Sexton and Ringrose on this occasion, the former getting his hands free to release Jordan Larmour for the line.

The fullback stepped the last line of the defence but was hauled down short of the whitewash, yet had the awareness and skillset to offload cutely to the supporting O’Loughlin on his right shoulder, with Sexton making no mistake from the tee.

The defending champions were purring now, and enjoying large tracts of the first period — 61% possession and 60% territory — displayed their ruthless edge to seal the bonus-point before the interval through stunning scores from Lowe and Byrne.

A footnote: Bath got over for a try of their own before Leinster cut loose again, Louw worming over after a big carry from Sam Underhill and meaty linebreak from Wilson moved the visitors within striking distance.

The lead cut to four points at that juncture, but not that it stayed that way for long, mind. The Lowe blow followed.

Another wraparound off a big shove allowed Leinster spread it wide through the hands, with Byrne stretching his legs for the first time down the right, but after grubbering through, the 24-year-old was impeded as he went galloping after it.

A number of phases later, Lowe added his fifth European try in blue, as he opportunistically collected the ball, tapped a quick penalty to himself and muscled his way over from close range when everyone else had fallen asleep.

James Lowe celebrates scoring a try with Garry Ringrose Lowe was on the scoresheet again. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The fourth try, moments before the interval, was even better. Larmour retreated to the backfield to gather a kick in behind and turned defence into attack with a magical step past two Bath defenders, before looking to move it left where there were blue numbers in support. 

Ringrose again darted, straightened and whipped a pass to O’Loughlin, who could have released Sexton, but instead held on and got it back in-field for Lowe, only for Leinster to run out of space. Not to worry, they turned it over again, winning a penalty against the head to make inroads at the lineout maul.

McGrath recycled, Sexton looked right and drilled an inch-perfect cross-field kick for Byrne to leap and pluck it out of the night sky with athletic grace, sealing the try-scoring bonus in style.

Stunning, ruthless, Leinster in big-game mode. 

And there was no let-up. Relentless pressure, Ryan blasted a hole again, Furlong put the head down and Leavy was on hand — with the support of McGrath — to pick and drive from the base for the fifth, just four minutes into the second period.

Cullen introduced Andrew Porter and Rhys Ruddock, and while Bath pulled another score back through Underhill, Leinster were quickly back into their task, controlling possession and the tempo to stroll to an emphatic win.

There was even wiggle room for the hosts to unload their bench with plenty left to spare, as Gibson-Park sauntered in for the sixth after a trademark Porter carry and a sensational Lowe offload.

The rain and gale returned for the final exchanges, forcing many to scamper for the exits, but it was long over as a contest, Leinster rolling up the sleeves to march on towards the quarter-finals. 

That’s now 11 straight wins at the Aviva, and as many consecutive victories at home in the Champions Cup. They’re the team to stop again. 

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Jack Conan, Rory O’Loughlin, James Lowe, Adam Byrne, Dan Leavy, Jamison Gibson-Park. 
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [5 from 5], Ross Byrne [1 from 1].

Bath scorers:

Tries: Francois Louw, Sam Underhill.
Conversions: James Wilson [1 from 2]
Penalties: James Wilson [1 from 1].

LEINSTER: 15. Jordan Larmour, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Garry Ringrose (Noel Reid 71′), 12. Rory O’Loughlin, 11. James Lowe, 10. Johnny Sexton (Ross Byrne 61′), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 61′); 1. Cian Healy (Ed Byrne 54′), 2. Seán Cronin (James Tracy 54′), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter 46′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. James Ryan (Ross Molony 70′), 6. Dan Leavy, 7. Josh van der Flier (Rhys Ruddock 44′), 8. Jack Conan. 

BATH: 15. Ruaridh McConnochie, 14. Semesa Rokoduguni, 13. Jackson Willison (Darren Atkins 21′), 12. Jamie Roberts, 11. Cooper Vuna, 10. James Wilson (Alex Davies 71′), 9. Will Chudley (Kahn Fotuali’i 60′), 1. Jacques van Rooyen (Nathan Catt 47′), 2. Tom Dunn (Jack Walker 54′), 3. Henry Thomas (Max Lahiff 54′), 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Charlie Ewels (captain) (Elliott Stooke 69′), 6. Tom Ellis, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Francois Louw (Matt Garvey 60′). 

Attendance: 40,261.

Referee: Pascal Gauzère [France].

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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