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Madigan's flawless kicking squeezes Leinster into Champions Cup semi-final

The closing minutes at the Aviva Stadium were nerve-wracking for Matt O’Connor’s side.

Leinster 18

Bath 15

IAN MADIGAN’S ASSURED goal-kicking saw Leinster squeeze into the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, as the Ireland international slotted six penalties from six attempts in an 18-15 win over Bath.

Rob Kearney with Horacio Agulla and Anthony Watson Rob Kearney charges through the tackle of opposite number Anthony Watson. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Matt O’Connor’s side came through a nerve-wracking closing 10 minutes, forced to defend inside their half against a desperate final Bath onslaught. The relief inside the Aviva Stadium as Jerome Garces signalled a breakdown penalty to Leinster with time up was palpable.

The English side were dangerous and daring in attack throughout, taking advantage of Leinster’s misfiring defence to score two tries through the impressive George Ford and captain Stuart Hooper.

Matt O’Connor’s side had the knock-out rugby smarts to draw penalties from an indisciplined Bath pack throughout the course of the 80 minutes in Dublin, allowing Madigan to demonstrate his quality from the tee.

Bath’s bursts of attacking genius and incision were mixed with moments of loose play that allowed Leinster to counter, while it was the home side who dominated the set-piece contest.

Cian Healy and Mike Ross were superb at scrum time especially, giving the Bath front row a tough afternoon in the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster move on to face the winners of the Toulon v Wasps clash in the semi-finals. A win for the former would mean an intimidating trip to Marseille for O’Connor’s side, with Leinster having exited last year’s Heineken Cup after a quarter-final defeat to Toulon.

Man of the match Madigan ensured Leinster drew first blood in this tie following a scattergun opening 10 minutes. What was to prove a typically strong scrum from his forwards saw the centre open the scoring, before he contributed to Bath’s try soon after.

It stemmed from a poor Madigan kick out of the Leinster 22, which the centre followed up by missing his tackle on Horacio Agulla. Francois Louw burst through a gaping hole on the left fringe of the ruck when the Argentine wing was hauled down, Madigan failing to fill the pillar position, and Leinster were immediately scrambling.

Leroy Houston did well to clean up when a loose Bath pass flew out to the left, but Ford’s men regathered their composure and found shape back inside the Leinster 22. Their trademark rugby league-style pull-back pass behind a decoy runner made the try.

Rob Kearney is challenged in the air by Anthony Watson Anthony Watson was yellow carded in the first half. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

The abrasive Carl Fearns dragged his pass out the back door of the trundling Kane Palma-Newport, giving out-half Ford time to ghost between Devin Toner and Jordi Murphy, then around the despairing cover tackle attempt of Rob Kearney.

Ford’s conversion hitting the left upright took the sheen off a wonderful 21st-minute try.

After his impressive assist for that score, Fearns almost immediately gave up a penalty for going off his feet at ruck time, allowing Madigan to push Leinster back into the lead at 6-5.

Bath’s momentum was further burst when fullback Anthony Watson was sin binned directly from the restart after that Madigan penalty. The England international failed to get off the ground early enough on kick chase, clattering into Kearney, who was in the air.

The Leinster fullback crashed to deck, the home side appealed, Garces went to his TMO and pulled out his yellow card. Bath conceded six points while Watson was absent, but a worrying trend of poor discipline only worsened for them.

Madigan first punished an offside after Sean Cronin’s gorgeous offload to Sean O’Brien, then added his fourth penalty when Cian Healy and Mike Ross demolished Bath’s seven-man scrum [Louw standing out to defend with the backs].

Even with Watson back on the pitch, Bath continued to infringe and Stuart Hooper coming in the side of a maul allowed Madigan to extend Leinster’s lead out to 15-5.

George Ford kicks forward George Ford was a classy presence for Bath. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Just before Garces blew for half time, a huge hit from Fergus McFadden on Watson brought the Aviva Stadium crowd to their feet, though the Bath fullback bounced back onto his own immediately after a massive contact.

Nonetheless, McFadden had set a better defensive tone for O’Connor’s side after a half in which they had been intermittently sloppy in the tackle and structurally.

The right wing was involved in a another big collision just after half time, this one ending his afternoon. Kyle Eastmond’s shoulder crunched into McFadden’s face as the Leinster man carried, and he was helped off looking dazed.

McFadden’s replacement, Zane Kirchner was went close to scoring Leinster’s first try just minutes after entering the fray. A clever loop play by Gopperth around the superb Sean Cronin saw the out-half then fire a pass to Madigan in space.

The inside centre found Kearney, who in turn fed Kirchner on the right touchline. Only some superb tackling by Micky Young and Matt Banahan halted the South Africa from scoring.

Kearney missed narrowly with a long-range drop goal shortly after, but Fearns’ big break up the left-hand side then served Leinster a reminder of the need for defensive improvements.

The warning wasn’t heeded, and Ford created another excellent score a minute later.

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Ian Madigan kicks a penalty Madigan was assured in his kicking from the tee. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This time, Ford picked up the ball just outside Leinster’s 22 in phase play, spotted a gaping space between Healy and Toner and darted past the reach of the Ireland loosehead prop.

Kearney halted him, but the 22-year-old had the in-contact composure to get his hands free and offload to his trail-running captain Stuart Hooper. The heavy lock flopped over the line from metres out, allowing Ford an easy conversion for 15-12.

The Leinster scrum continued to prosper though, Paul James driving in on the angle in his effort to counter the power of Healy. Garces was having none of it, and Madigan calmly slotted a 45-metre penalty to give Leinster further breathing room.

O’Connor used his bench to send experienced heads like Eoin Reddan and Richardt Strauss into the game in the last quarter, while the introductions of the more youthful Marty Moore and Jack McGrath did nothing to weaken Leinster’s strength up front.

Despite the raft of replacements, Leinster began to tire notably in the face of Bath’s high-tempo, defence-stretching attack in the last quarter. Time and again the visitors threatened, Ford reducing the deficit after O’Brien was punished.

Leinster just about clung on.

Leinster scorers:

Penalties: Ian Madigan [6 from 6]

Bath scorers:

Tries: George Ford, Stuart Hooper

Conversions: George Ford [1 from 2]

Penalties: George Ford [1 from 2]

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney (Gordon D’Arcy ’75); Fergus McFadden (Zane Kirchner ’42), Ben Te’o, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss (Eoin Reddan ’58); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’59), Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss ’66), Mike Ross (Marty Moore ’50); Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy (Tom Denton ’72); Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt.).

Replacements not used: Dominic Ryan.

BATH: Anthony Watson (YC ’26 to ’36); Horacio Agulla (Tom Homer ’66), Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond (Sam Burgess ’61), Matt Banahan; George Ford, Micky Young (Peter Stringer ’66); Paul James (Nick Auterac ’53), Rob Webber (Ross Batty ’50), Kane Palma-Newport (Max Lahiff ’58); Stuart Hooper (capt.), Dave Attwood; Carl Fearns (Alafoti Faosiliva ’58), Francois Louw, Leroy Houston.

Replacements not used: Matt Garvey.

Referee: Jerome Garces [France].

Attendance: 43,958.

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