Connolly reins in Bath's party preparations

Leinster 19 Bath 22
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The Independent Online

Little wonder then, that with a victory over Leinster to celebrate, a grinning Bath head coach John Connolly announced: "I'll put the ankle bracelets on them tonight to make sure they don't go astray."

It is doubtful, however, that they would have had the energy to party after what they went through on the Royal Dublin Showground on Saturday. They had a tough enough time trying to free themselves from the shackles clamped on them by Leinster.

Bath lost both matches against Leinster in last year's European Cup, and they looked to be well on the way to an unenviable hat-trick by the interval. But revenge is not always a dish best served cold. Some like it hot. Bath clearly do, because they contributed to a fiery second half, with a far more positive attitude than they had shown in the opening 40 minutes, when a passionate Leinster side had outplayed and out-thought the West Countrymen. The hosts rediscovered their desire right at the end to create a finale that crackled with tension. Leinster flung everything at Bath as the minutes ticked down. But to their credit, Bath threw it all back at them - kitchen sink, taps, plug and all.

They had the stamina to survive those last desperate minutes. For all the attacks that Leinster launched, they just did not seem to have enough left in their legs to get around Bath's gritty defence, hence the relief in the visitors' camp, especially after their poor start.

Connolly clearly felt that this win was an achievement in itself, and it prompted him to dwell on the possibility of Bath reaching the knock-out stages of the competition. "It will be tough for us, but we will cause teams problems. The key is to win your pool and try to get a quarter-final at home."

On this evidence Bath will give teams cause for hope if they reproduce their first-half performance. The Irish peppered them with high balls, and time and again Bath justified the tactic by bungling the take.

The Premiership side were also guilty of indiscipline, and worst of all, apart from the occasions they were caught offside and committed myriad other technical infringements, they could not resist talking back to the referee, Nigel Whitehouse, from Wales. It was the wrong sort of talking to do on the pitch. And they were punished for it.

In the opening exchanges they were surprisingly flabby in attack, never truly threatening the Leinster line, and instead relying on the boot of Olly Barkley to keep them in the game at the interval. Leinster had real penetration out wide; all they lacked was the killer finish. The rookie winger Robert Kearney looks a real prospect: strong under the high ball, quick-witted, quick-footed and with a good pass, he will trouble defences at the very highest level before long.

The Leinster No 8, Jamie Heaslip, a callow 21-year-old, also looked special. In the dying minutes of the game, he was a real handful, bursting out of his own half at one point dangerously quickly and getting far too close to the Bath line for their liking.

Bath were also fortunate to catch Leinster without their Ireland internationals Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie, and the former England prop Will Green; the latter forced to pull out on the morning of the match suffering from a chest infection. That trio could have made a mighty difference to the outcome.

Leinster: Try Contepomi; Conversion Contepomi; Penalties Contepomi 3; Drop goal Contepomi. Bath: Try Beattie; Conversion Barkley; Penalties Barkley 4; Drop goal Malone.

Leinster: G Dempsey; K Lewis, G D'Arcy, S Horgan, R Kearney (J Hepworth, 73); F Contepomi (capt), B O'Riordan (B O'Meara, 58); R Corrigan, B Blaney (B Jackman, 58), E Byrne, B Gissing (M O'Kelly, 58), B Williams, C Potts, K Gleeson, J Heaslip.

Bath: L Best; D Bory (S Finau, 77), T Cheeseman, O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, M Wood; M Stevens, L Mears (P Dixon, 75), D Bell, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, J Scaysbrook, I Feaunati (G Delve, 75).

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).