Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# big issues
Scrum power and more talking points from Leinster's win over Bath
Bath’s attacking approach, Watson’s yellow card costly, Madigan’s kicking and Leinster’s performance.

LEINSTER BEAT BATH 18-15 at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon to advance into the semi-finals of the Champions Cup.

Read our full match report here

Leinster’s performance

One big question leaps immediately to mind in the aftermath of Leinster’s win – is that performance good enough to beat, say, Toulon in the semi-finals of this competition?

Mike McCarthy, Gordon D'Arcy and Jimmy Gopperth celebrate winning Colm O'Neill / INPHO Mike McCarthy, Gordon D'Arcy and Jimmy Gopperth celebrate their win. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Negatively reviewing an Irish province reaching the last four of the top-tier European competition might harsh, but the answer would appear to be ‘no’ in this case. The Top 14 giants would likely be confident about facing Leinster in Marseille if they can overcome Wasps.

That said, there were improvements from Matt O’Connor’s side in this display, most notably at the scrum. Ian Madigan’s goal-kicking is a genuine strength, as is the knock-out rugby savvy of leaders such as Jamie Heaslip.

We will back O’Connor’s men to get better for the semi-final in two weeks’ time, shore up the defensive holes and make better decisions. One thing is certain: Leinster will need to improve if they are to claim their first title since 2012.

Bath ball in hand

On a perfect April afternoon, the ambition and creativity shown by Mike Ford’s men when in possession was a hardly-needed breath of fresh air. His son George led the charge, although he mixed inaccurate kicks with his intelligent passing and running.

Mike Ford speaks to his players after the game Colm O'Neill / INPHO Mike Ford addresses his Bath side after defeat to Leinster. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Anthony Watson was superb on kick return, while back row duo Carl Fearns and Leroy Houston looked entirely comfortable with the high-tempo passing game. That approach took an obvious toll on Leinster in the closing stages, as they tired badly.

As with Ford’s individual showing, Bath made collective errors aplenty. Their dashing attack brings with it risk and Leinster pounced on the intermittent mistakes with the know-how of a side that has been here before.

Watson’s yellow

The Premiership outfit gave up six points in the time that Watson was off the pitch and although we can’t point to that as the losing of the game in itself, a three-point winning margin for Leinster underlines how costly it was.

Rob Kearney is challenged in the air by Anthony Watson Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Watson was one of Bath’s most effective players, particularly with ball in hand. Indeed, his counter-attacking and kick returning consistently posed a threat to Leinster’s at-times disorganised defence.

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It’s hard to argue with Jerome Garces’ yellow-card decision, given that Watson only got into the air at a very late stage and clattered through Rob Kearney’s legs to bring the Leinster fullback crashing back to earth.

We’re not big fans of the card-demanding reaction from Kearney’s teammates, but Watson brought the punishment on himself with his poor timing.

Madigan’s kicking composure

The Ireland international didn’t really have a ‘gimme’ effort from the tee in Dublin, though a pair of his kicks were from central positions. His final effort of the contest, from at least 45 metres out, was hugely impressive.

Ian Madigan with his man of the match award Ryan Byrne / INPHO Madigan was named man of the match. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Like his teammates, Madigan made errors in open play, most glaringly in the lead-up to Ford’s try, but his composure when kicking made him a deserved man of the match.

The 26-year-old had a high-profile miss against Scotland in the Six Nations last month, but it evidently has not affected him in the slightest. His work with Enda McNulty has seen Madigan build real belief in his skill, much to Leinster’s benefit yet again.

Scrum contest

One of the reasons for Bath’s concession of penalties throughout the game was the strength of the Leinster scrum. Along with the quality kicking of Madigan, the scrum was a major reason for the home victory.

Micky Young passes the ball from a scrum Colm O'Neill / INPHO Leinster's scrum was exceptional throughout. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland international front rows Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross showed their experience in the set-piece, distressing Paul James on Bath’s loosehead side and the third-choice Kane Palma-Newport in the number three shirt.

At least two of Madigan’s penalties came directly from scrum penalties, as Garces rewarded Leinster for driving straight.

Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner share the credit for the power of the scrum in Dublin this afternoon, adding their bulk and work rate from the second row.

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