As one of the English clubs defeated in Europe over the weekend, Bath were unique in being asked to defend a philosophy of playing that may have exciting implications for rugby at large. With George Ford at fly-half willing to fire wide passes or run through gaps himself, their challenging mix of risk versus reward earned cautious respect from their Irish hosts after the 18-15 loss to Leinster in Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin.
“Bath are a very exciting team and they could have punished us a lot more,” said Rob Kearney, Leinster’s Ireland full-back and a two-time Lions Test tourist. “They force a lot of offloads, they throw 50-50 passes and sometimes they throw 40-60s. Some of them come off, some of them don’t and they do play high-risk rugby but when it comes off they will punish you.”
Receiving this analysis face to face from Kearney, who is also a three-time European Cup winner, felt like a warning as much as a compliment. Leinster, the competition’s sole survivors from the Pro 12 league, were in trouble against Wasps during the pool phase but in both that match and this knockout fixture they prevailed, in the same way as Kearney and nine Leinster team-mates did against Ford and England during the Six Nations Championship, albeit the styles of play were different.
Anthony Watson ran brilliantly from full-back on this occasion, whereas England have been using him on the wing, but too many of his Bath team-mates’ passes missed their targets, and penalties piled up as Leinster turned the screw in the scrums and breakdowns, allowing Ian Madigan’s six penalties to outdo Ford’s try and another that the fly-half created for Stuart Hooper. “We’re trying to make the right decisions at the right times,” Watson said. “It’s not about running it from everywhere or making rash plays for the sake of it.”
Watson came off second best, too, by misjudging an aerial challenge on Kearney and spending 10 minutes in the sin bin. Kearney said: “We saw in the Six Nations that discipline is massive. If you give kickable penalties away you are going to be on the back foot a bit – we got all our points from penalties.”Reuse content