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Leinster Snatch Victory From Bath

By Glen Leat
January 9 2005

The Bath forwards carried their team out of the European Cup on a shield made from steely grit, power and passion. Leading by 10 points with just five minutes left, Bath will be kicking themselves to have lost to two very late opportunist tries from Leinster.

This was an exciting and enjoyable game yet, almost all of the second half and the end part of the first half didn't go to script. This top class Lenister side, with arguably the best centre in the world aiming to control the game, took charge for much of the first 30 minutes of the game but were then dominated by a committed and passionate Bath team. Many of us were expecting to see, if not a hiding from the Irish, certainly a master-class in rugby and this very near happened a few minutes after the opening try. O'Driscoll's slight of hand was a joy to watch as he set up a sweeping attack which should have resulted in another score, fortunately for Bath Girvan Dempsey dropped the ball just in front of the Bath try-line.

The Bath forwards totally dominated their Irish opponents in all areas of the game and it was no surprise to learn after the match that Bath had some 76% of possession in the second period and the result of this match could have been very different. Had it not been for an error in the first minute, when rookie hooker Dave Ward over threw a lineout in the Bath twenty-two to set up a scoring chance for Shane Jennings, the quick thinking of David Howell to knock down and score from a Chris Malone clearance or a ricochet from a Brian O'Driscoll kick for touch which set up field position in the final moments from which Malcolm O'Kelly crossed the line, Bath dominated almost all of the match and should have walked away with a which would have given them confidence for the rest of the season.

So what went wrong? Basically it was the same old story: the Bath pack was immense but the backs could not take advantage of the unbelievable amount of possession won for them by their forwards. Questions will be once again raised over the ability of Chris Malone at this level after his clearance kick was easily charged down, and then touched down, by Leinster fly-half David Holwell. But fingers should not be pointed solely at the young Aussie as all the backs looked sluggish. If catching a ball standing still, stuttering and then opting for the wrong direction of play was an Olympic sport, the Bath backs would join Jason Gardener in winning a gold medal.

One also has to question the tactics employed by the backs for the first 25 minutes: hoofing the ball up-field towards their opponents was clearly the wrong option as the Leinster backs enjoyed catching high balls under little pressure and then running back at Bath. It was only when Malone started kicking to the corners, thus turning the Irish defenders, that Bath made real progress and almost immediately this resulted in a try to Steve Borthwick after a pair of penalties, lineouts and forward drives.

Courtesy of Eastander

There may be a lack of skills in some areas and killer instinct in others but the hearts of the Bath players is not in doubt and they dragged themselves back from 3-13 to 13-13 at half time, really against all odds. The first 35 minutes of the second half belonged to Bath but despite another try, from Brendon Daniel and a conversion and penalty from Olly Barkley, they couldn't kill off the game and this resulted in the Lazarus-style comeback from the visitors.

Despite his initial error, to gift a try to Leinster in the opening minute, Dave Ward played superbly throughout the game and it was wonderful when Stuart Barnes awarded the youngster Man of the Match status. Those of us who have been listening to the Bath Barrel for a number of years know he isn't overly soft-hearted and this accolade for Ward had to be earned. It was great to see Grewcock, Barnes, Borthwick and Beattie all go up to Ward during the game to offer encouragement and support: he could so easily have crumbled after that first line-out disappointment.

The single thought in my mind as I walked out of the ground was, "How did we lose?". This was definitely a game for the taking but Leinster played like Bath of old and that must have warmed a few cockles (and mussels) inside a certain Mr Rowell. Can we once again return to those golden days? Yes of course we can but we need a Leinster back line to complement our forwards otherwise we will forever be frustrated.

Bath (13) 23
Tries: Borthwick, Daniel
Cons: Barkley 2
Pens: Barkley
Leinster: (13) 27
Tries: Jennings, Holwell, O'Kelly
Cons: Holwell 3
Pens: Holwell 2

Bath: Perry, Maddock, Crockett, Barkley, Daniel, Malone, Walshe,Barnes, Ward, Bell, Borthwick, Grewcock, Beattie, Lipman,Fea'unati.
Replacements: Loader, Stevens, Fidler, Scaysbrook, Hudson,Lewis, Baxter.

Leinster: Dempsey, Horgan, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, D. Hickie,Holwell, Easterby, Corrigan, E. Byrne, S. Byrne, O'Kelly,Cullen, Miller, Jennings, Costello.
Replacements: Nebbett, B. Blaney, Potts, McCullen, O'Meara,Contepomi, Lewis.

Referee: J Jutge (France)

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