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Leinster bid to put European defence back on winning track in Bath

‘We know there’s not that much room for error across the course of the games.’

LEO CULLEN SAYS he doesn’t like the word ‘blip’ but it really does seem like the most likely description for what happened in Toulouse in the last round of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Cullen’s Leinster team, uncharacteristically lacking in composure at key times and up against an accurate, motivated Toulouse team, were defeated to end a 10-game winning streak in Europe.

Jonathan Sexton dejected after the game Johnny Sexton after Leinster's defeat in Toulouse. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The determination from inside Leinster is that today’s Pool 1 clash with Bath at The Rec [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport] will see the Irish province’s European defence getting back on a winning track. On the outside, that outcome is the expectation.

For starters, Bath are in the midst of a disappointing season. They’ve won just three times in 11 games in the Premiership and Heineken Cup so far, albeit that Freddie Burns’ high-profile gaffe cost them a probable victory against Toulouse in round one of this competition.

Former Leinster fullback and assistant coach Girvan Dempsey is doing his best to drive an attacking improvement at the club but they don’t appear to be in particularly impressive shape off the pitch, with more turnover in coaching staff on the way.

Bath clearly have threats in their team today – wings Semesa Rokoduguni and Joe Cokanasiga will be a handful, while Sam Underhill and Francois Louw are a danger in the back row – but Leinster’s 14-point favouritism feels justified.

The defeat in Toulouse has certainly sharpened minds.

“There’s not much margin for error over the course of the pool,” says Cullen.

“We’re just going to scrap for every point we can, we got a losing bonus point that day in Toulouse.

“There was once upon a time a losing bonus point in France was not that bad a result, but for us as a group, we got ourselves in a situation where we scored three tries, we got in front, and we’d a chance to get to ten points in the pool and open a lot of separation.

Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring their seventh try with teammates 12/10/2018 Leinster bid to return to winning ways in Bath today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Suddenly Toulouse get four points and we get one, they’re sitting on eight points and we’re in second in the pool. We’re the team that’s chasing them now, we know there’s not that much room for error across the course of the games. It heightens the importance of this week.”

The returns of Ireland front-liners like captain Johnny Sexton, centre Garry Ringrose, fullback Rob Kearney and the powerhouse front row of Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong are welcome with that in mind.

Jordan Larmour and Dan Leavy have shaken off injury concerns to start, with the latter named at number eight ahead of Jack Conan, a more recognised specialist in that position.

“We weren’t 100% sure on Jack at the start of the week,” says Cullen, “but he’s come through well. That was to give us clarity really as a group. 

“And Dan has played number eight in the past. He is good to go and confident he can do a good job.” 

The injury-enforced absences of Robbie Henshaw and Joe Tomane mean that Noel Reid gets a chance in the 12 shirt opposite the physical Jamie Roberts.

While there have been concerns over Reid’s tackling in the past, he is at 92% tackle success this season and has been in fine form.

Indeed, the past fortnight has underlined the strength in depth of Leinster’s squad as the Ireland internationals have put the feet up, with the likes of James Tracy, Ross Molony, Jamison Gibson-Park, and Ross Byrne – all on the bench today – showing their quality.

Noel Reid Noel Reid starts in the 12 shirt for Leinster. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Loosehead prop Ed Byrne is another who has impressed and he will get his Heineken Cup debut off the bench in Bath as he backs up Healy in the absence of the injured Jack McGrath.

All in all, Leinster’s 23 looks well-composed to put their Pool 1 campaign back into a strong position ahead of the return tie against Bath in Dublin next weekend, while their minds will have been focused by events in Toulouse last time out.

Bath:

15. Ruaridh McConnochie
14. Semesa Rokoduguni
13. Jackson Willison
12. Jamie Roberts
11. Joe Cokanasiga
10. James Wilson
9. Will Chudley

1. Nathan Catt
2. Tom Dunn
3. Henry Thomas
4. Dave Attwood
5. Charlie Ewels (captain)
6. Tom Ellis
7. Sam Underhill
8. Francois Louw

Replacements: 

16. Jack Walker
17. Jacques van Rooyen
18. Max Lahiff
19. Elliott Stooke
20. Matt Garvey
21. Kahn Fotuali’i
22. Cooper Vuna
23. Alex Davies

Leinster:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Noel Reid
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Dan Leavy

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Jack Conan
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [FFR].

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview a big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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