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Molly Malone: Bath v Leinster ECC
By P G Tips
December 4 2018


Louw: give him lead.

Bath will be reacquainted with Molly Malone at the Rec on Saturday. No, the Australian former 10 is not being brought back to tutor our fly halves, but we can expect to hear the strains of Dublin’s unofficial anthem ringing around the stadium. Given the muted atmosphere at recent home matches and comparative form of the two sides will the ballad of the fishmonger drown the shouts of C’mon you Bath? Or can Bath bounce back to such form as to inspire the passions of their faithful?

The odds have to favour Leinster. European aristocrats, with four triumphs under their belts, they have a squad full of internationals and are in an enviable run of form. They currently lead their Pro 14 Conference, 15 points ahead of second placed Scarlets, lie 2nd in Pool B of the Champions Cup and walloped Dragons in Newport last weekend, scoring 9 tries without their Ireland internationals. They also have a habit of beating Bath in this tournament, winning 7 of the 9 encounters, running in some breath-taking tries and racking up impressive totals on 3 of those occasions. Cup-ties though are notorious for springing surprises and here Bath have a fine pedigree of their own – just not often against Leinster. What better time than this weekend then, to break that habit?

 

Leinster will be without a number of players through injury – Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Conan and Leavy up front and Nick McCarthy, Henshaw, McFadden and Tomane behind. There are doubts too over O’Loughlin and Larmour while tournament qualification rules may prevent Leinster playing Fardy and Lowe. Even so, they can still dip into an impressive squad and field a high quality 23, most of them completely rested last weekend. Any pack that can call on the likes of Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Ryan, Toner, Ruddock and Van Der Flier is a daunting proposition, while backs such as Luke McGrath, Sexton, Ringrose and the Kearneys will ask searching questions of any defence.

 

It is not only the opposition though who will pose searching questions. Bath fans have plenty to raise. So too the coaches who have already led a squad soul search session into the departures from Sunday’s game plan. It was not a lack of effort at fault, as some armchair critics would claim. Skipper for the day Charlie Ewels summed it up: “I couldn’t sit here and question anybody’s work rate,” he said. “I can question how we’re playing the game at times, from what we’ve said we’re going to do in the week then going off script on game days.” Pride, passion and perspiration were not missing – the possession and territory stats prove that- it was precision in performance (in particular pacey passing from the base) that was lacking. Blackadder has spoken about “getting everyone on the same page”. He wants absolute clarity in systems and expectations. Attack coach Girvan Dempsey believes that fluency begins with the breakdown – an area of frustration against Sharks and one where Leinster are usually masters. Identifying these issues is only the start. This week’s training must ensure not only that all are on the same page, but that it is known by heart and can be navigated by instinct, not numbers.

Injury news, while disappointing, brings only one new setback. Zach Mercer will not feature due to knee and thigh niggles so back row resources will be stretched. With all 3 specialist No8s out it could be Francois Louw who takes on the role. The back row of Ellis, Louw and Underhill, which finished Sunday’s game, looks a good bet at the breakdown. If chosen it raises the question of where to employ club captain Garvey. I would be tempted to give Louw the dual responsibility of No8 and Captain to get the best lock pairing on in front of the loose forwards.

Bath will be boosted by the return of Dunn, Attwood and Roberts who were rested for the last match. They promise greater set piece stability, go forward and, hopefully, leadership.

Bath may have only a slim chance of progress from this pool, but the squad desperately need a performance to be proud of and robust reaction both to recent results and fans disappointment. The weather should be kinder (cold but dry and bright) than last Sunday so cannot be used as an excuse. “Boys have to take responsibility,” says Blackadder “There’s no excuse.”  Time to show what you are made of: Come on you Bath!

 

Possible Teams:
Bath:
Catt, Dunn, Thomas, Attwood, Stooke, Ellis, Underhill, Louw (Capt.). Chudley, Burns. Cokanasiga, Roberts, Willison, Rokodoguni. McConnochie.

Replacements: V Rooyen, Batty, Perenise, Ewels, Garvey. Green, Wilson, Vuna,

 

Leinster:
Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Ryan, Toner, Ruddock, Deegan, Van der Flier. McGrath, Sexton. Byrne, Ringrose, Daly, Kearney. Kearney.

Replacements: Tracey, Porter, Bent, Kearney, Murphy. Gibson-Park, Reid, Daly.