Leinster deny Bath fruits of muddy graft

Bath 23 Leinster 27
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The Independent Online

Declan Kidney, the visiting coach, called it "stickability". The whole of Bath called it something else, that something being none too polite. If the nine forwards who screwed the Leinster pack into the Recreation Ground mud and denied them so much as a sniff of the ball for the best part of an hour each live to be a hundred, they will not begin to fathom how they failed to maintain their interest in this increasingly compelling tournament. The luck of the Irish? A conspiracy of the sporting gods, more like.

The good news, if this is not a laughably inappropriate phrase under the tearful circumstances, is that the Bath locks, Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock, are in magnificent shape ahead of the Six Nations Championship. Borthwick, in particular, performed so brilliantly on Saturday that Malcolm O'Kelly, a Lions second-rower operating very much at Lions pitch, could not subdue him. Bath have unearthed a bright spark of a hooker, too, in the teenaged shape of Dave Ward. Drafted in from the back end of beyond when it became clear that the three senior hookers in the club were crocked, he rose above a knicker-twisting first five minutes to contribute handsomely to an epic up-front effort.

But no amount of consolation will prevent the West Countrymen spending the foreseeable future in long and meaningful conversation with the Samaritans - always assuming they do not get an engaged tone when they try to ring, which, knowing the state of their fortunes, will almost certainly happen. Seven points adrift at the end of the first quarter, Borthwick and company dominated to such an extent that by the 76th minute, Leinster had settled for a losing bonus point and asked David Holwell to kick a penalty to get them back to within a converted try - a kick he duly missed.

And then it happened. Chris Malone, an Australian outside-half blessed with a decent right peg but cursed with the pace of an elderly wombat, took several fractions too long over a clearance kick on his own 22-metre line and allowed Holwell, his opposite number and a fellow Antipodean to boot, the simplest of try-scoring chargedowns. From the restart, Brian O'Driscoll, the Dublin deity, had a kick of his own deflected. Needless to say, it fell perfectly for Leinster and horribly for their hosts. O'Driscoll hacked the ball down field, Matt Perry was put through the wringer as the Irish forwards descended on him in full warpaint, and O'Kelly strolled in on the overlap for the winning score.

Kidney, who coached Munster to two Heineken Cup finals and rather fancies a third tilt at the title with his new province, must know such an achievement is unlikely with a pack as compromised as Leinster's. "If we're judged on results, I'm happy," he said. "If we're judged on performance, I know there is a huge amount of work to do."

From here on in, they will come up against sides every bit as well-equipped as Bath in the forward department. Unlike Bath, those sides will have a set of backs who know what to do with the ball. Destination Dublin for the most sought-after trophy in European club rugby? Do not hold your breath.

Bath: Tries Borthwick, Daniel; Conversions Barkley 2; Penalties Barkley 2; Drop goal Malone. Leinster: Tries Jennings, Holwell, O'Kelly; Conversions Holwell 3; Penalties Holwell 2.

Bath: M Perry; J Maddock (J Scaysbrook H-T, M Stevens, 45-49), A Crockett, O Barkley, B Daniel; C Malone, N Walshe; D Barnes, D Ward, D Bell (Stevens, 59), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, M Lipman, I Fea'unati.

Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (F Contepomi, 75), D Hickie; D Holwell, G Easterby; R Corrigan, S Byrne, E Byrne (R Nebbett, 48), L Cullen (A McCullen, 52), M O'Kelly, E Miller, S Jennings (C Potts, 67), V Costello.

Referee: J Jutge (France).