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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 21 January, 2019
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Leinster send out a timely statement but have work to do behind Toulouse

An emphatic 42-15 win over Bath sets up pool-defining showdown against the Top 14 side in January.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium 

ANY NOTIONS THAT this renewal of battle lines would become an extension of last week’s arm-wrestle were quickly dismissed, as Leinster produced an intoxicating festive showing to remind everyone just why they’re the defending European champions.

A six-try dismissal of Bath ensures Leo Cullen’s side stay hot on the heels of Toulouse in Pool 1, with the two four-time winners of the competition set for a mouth-watering showdown at the RDS in round five after Christmas. 

Jamison Gibson-Park celebrates scoring a try with Adam Byrne Leinster celebrate Jamison Gibson-Park's try. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Leinster had yet to hit top gear during their title defence hitherto, losing in Toulouse in round three and having to roll up the sleeves to get the job done in Bath last week, but they had no such problem here, sending out a major statement of intent.

The province needed a response after Toulouse had earlier stretched their advantage at the summit of the pool to seven points with a big win over Wasps, and Cullen’s side duly obliged in front 40,261 at the national stadium.

Leinster had the bonus point wrapped up before the interval, as the wind and rain briefly relented to allow the hosts dominate up front — with James Ryan to the fore — and rectify the breakdown issues which pockmarked their performance last time out.

With success in the collisions, and quick ball providing the platform, Johnny Sexton — as we have come to expect — pulled the strings with masterful precision, being the fulcrum of several wraparound moves in the first half, while his crossfield kicking led to two tries.

Cullen’s decision to make three changes in personnel, bringing Jack Conan, Rory O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne into the side, was vindicated as all three crossed during a dominant first half, while also adding so much more.

James Lowe added his fifth European try in Leinster colours, while Dan Leavy and Jamison Gibson-Park also got on the scoresheet as the province strolled to an 11th straight victory at the Aviva Stadium. 

“I thought we were better around the contact area,” Cullen said afterwards. “And we knew about the threats they have in their team, but it’s one thing knowing about it but then it’s actually about how we deal with it.

“We didn’t deal with it particularly well at times last week. Definitely better in the contact area, even though we gave away a penalty and three points at the start of the game for not being able to clear some of the threat.

“Overall, I thought we played with a lot more attacking intent and we were able to move Bath around a little bit more. Thought the guys were very clinical in terms of taking some of the opportunities, particularly in the first half.”

Sexton was at his peerless best, Garry Ringrose continues to be a class above in the 13 jersey, James Ryan made 14 big carries and Jordan Larmour, who relished his switch to fullback, was outstanding throughout, making 90 metres with ball in hand. 

Rory O’Loughlin celebrates scoring a try O'Loughlin was MOTM against Bath. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

O’Loughlin, meanwhile, took his opportunity with an impressive showing in midfield, the former St Michael’s man marking his 50th appearance for the province with a first-half score after a brilliantly executed loop move involving Sexton, Ringrose and Larmour.

With Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell in the stands, it was a big night for the 24-year-old.

“I thought Rory did very well,” Cullen said of the man of the match.

“He took his try very well in the first half. I thought he was very strong in the carry, fights through the contact well. We talked yesterday about the relationship there from the end of last season when he stepped in at 12. He’s had the experience, even though he hasn’t started that many games.

“Thought he performed very well in that role at the tail end of last season, and it was a really positive step for Rory today so delighted for him.”

Overall, Cullen was pleased to come away with the five points as Leinster now turn their attention to three consecutive Pro14 inter-pros over the Christmas and New Year period, starting with Connacht’s visit to the RDS next Saturday.

“There are lots of things we can get better at,” the head coach insisted.

It’s good we have everyone back together now and we’re able to build in this block. We’ve huge inter-pro games coming up, so our attention changes back to a different competition. Park Europe, and we’ll see where everyone sits after the weekend. There is lots of exciting rugby coming up.

On Toulouse, Cullen added: “They seem to be travelling very well. The mix that they have of big ball carrying forwards who are able to manage contact on their terms and get the ball away, it’s very much classic Toulouse.

“Some of the backs they have, there is a lot of pace and very, very skilful as well. They’re going to be a handful and obviously still sitting pretty at the top of the pool so we know we have plenty of work to do.”

Tadhg Furlong and Josh van der Flier, meanwhile, were withdrawn early in the second half after ‘struggling a bit during the week’, but Cullen reported no major injury concerns.

“I think we’ve come out reasonably okay from what I’ve seen so far.”

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Ryan Bailey

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