Bath’s bid to reach a first European Cup semi-final in nine years ended in an agonising amalgam of wondrous attack and calamitous errors. Their England fly-half George Ford scored a coruscating try in the first half and made another belter in the second for his captain, Stuart Hooper, but the nous of Leinster in the scrum and breakdown was just too much.
A lopsided penalty count and a series of misdirected and fumbled passes were evidence of the English club being unable quite to reach the exalted standard they needed to hold the three-time European champions. All Leinster’s scoring was completed by the 51st minute, but Bath could only manage a penalty by Ford after that, despite a thrilling charge-down by Alafoti Faosiliva at a scrum near the Leinster goal-line two minutes from the end, that required some frantic Irish scrambling to prevent a winning Bath score.
So Ian Madigan’s six penalty goals sent Leinster through to an away tie in the last four against Toulon or Wasps in Marseilles or Brighton in a fortnight, as this revamped tournament builds in double-quick time to the final at Twickenham on 2 May.
Bath’s distress was summed up in a fit of pique during the second half when Kyle Eastmond threw his gumshield to the ground after a wayward pass, and the angry centre was immediately replaced by Sam Burgess. “We’ll stick to our principles and this game will make our team stronger,” Mike Ford, the Bath coach, promised, while son George said: “We played at a good tempo but ultimately we need to get better at taking chances and be a bit harsh on ourselves.”
Miscommunication on either team would have been understandable, considering both were being asked to hit peak performance after not being together at full strength for 10 weeks, with the Six Nations Championship taking precedence in between. Ford was one of four of Bath’s England players revisiting the scene of their Six Nations loss to the eventual champions Ireland here last month; Leinster had 10 from that match in their 23-man squad.
While Sean O’Brien and Francois Louw engaged in a fine battle of classic opensides, the overall war was between Bath’s daring attack and Leinster’s experienced and organised defence.
Ford’s first high-quality incursion came with Bath trailing 3-0, and after the fly-half had seen an ambitious 50-metre goal kick fall short. He found himself in his favourite position – a broken field with opposing forwards nearby – after a raid by Horacio Agulla and Louw had faltered when Micky Youngs appeared to take the wrong option. Ford burst through and foxed the full-back Rob Kearney with a sumptuous show and go. Sadly the conversion hit a post when Bath needed every point they could muster.
The remainder of the first half was a tale of two Leinster penalties earned at the scrum, where Bath badly missed their injured England tighthead props Davey Wilson and Henry Thomas, and another half dozen awarded for breakdown and tackle offences, as well as a rash midair challenge by Anthony Watson on Kearney that saw Bath’s England full-back sent to the sin bin. Madigan did not miss a kick and Leinster led 15-5, with Fergus McFadden signing off for half-time with a piledriving tackle on Watson.
In the 47th minute, Ford again found a gap between forwards near a ruck, scooting between Cian Healy and Devin Toner, and flung a beautiful inside pass off the ground for the supporting Hooper to score. But the conversion by Ford was followed within four minutes by Madigan’s sixth penalty as Bath were pinged twice more at scrums, and the Leinster lead was never lost.
Leinster R Kearney (G D’Arcy, 74); F McFadden (Z Kirchner, 42), B Te’o, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, I Boss (E Reddan, 58); C Healy (J McGrath, 59), S Cronin (R Strauss, 66), M Ross (M Moore, 50), D Toner, M McCarthy (T Denton, 71), J Murphy, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt).
Bath A Watson; H Agulla (T Homer, 66), J Joseph, K Eastmond (S Burgess, 61), M Banahan; G Ford, M Young (P Stringer, 65); P James (N Auterac, 53), R Webber (R Batty, 50), K Palma-Newport (M Lahiff, 58), S Hooper (capt), D Attwood (M Garvey, 63), C Fearns (A Faosiliva, 58), F Louw, L Houston.
Referee: J Garces (France).
Pens: Madigan 6
Tries: Ford, Hooper
Pen: FordReuse content