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Friday 9 December 2016

Brent Pope: Leinster will need a radical overhaul before semi test with Toulon, but they can win

Luke Fitzgerald
Luke Fitzgerald

AFTER Leinster's game on Saturday the crowd reaction at a near capacity Aviva Stadium said it all, Leinster had won, but for some reason the victory was greeted with muted relief rather than joyous celebration.

The Leinster supporters will know that had man of the match Ian Madigan not been so accurate with his trusty boot then Leinster could just have easily lost.

Outscored two tries to none, Bath just needed to be more patient, especially in the last 10 minutes when they laid siege in Leinster's '22' only to come out with just three points.

So Leinster march on to France and will face Toulon in Marseilles, but the general feeling around the ground was that they would have to perform a hell of a lot better just to make it to another final.

Having said that, maybe the pressure will be off Leinster now.

On current form Leinster will not be expected to win against heavyweights Toulon and that may just suit them, as on Saturday it seemed they could have been there all night and still not scored a try.

Of course that had something to do with Bath's aggressive rush defence, but Luke Fitzgerald apart, Leinster just seemed to crab continuously across the field in search of space that was clearly not there.

In the end Leinster went to the boot almost twice as often as Bath did, but like against Glasgow a week earlier the kicks from the home team were either too long or the chase ineffective.

Not that Bath were any great shakes in that department either, continuing to kick long at restarts and pretty lackadaisical under the high ball, in either receiving them or chasing them, often just flinging a hand or arm out in hope rather than expectation.

The otherwise outstanding Bath full-back Anthony Watson, by far the game's mores electric counter-attacker summed up his team's kick-chase game perfectly.

Watson chased a pin-point kick somewhat half-heartedly, and when he should have gone into the air to at least challenge Leinster's Rob Kearney he didn't, instead Watson put his body into Kearney's line and as a result he was yellow-carded by ref Jerome Garces.

As Kearney lay injured Watson could have actually seen red, especially from the same ref that sent Ulster and Ireland's Jarrod Payne for an early shower earlier this season.

The laws in regards players leaping salmon-like into the air to retrieve a high ball must now be reviewed, it will not be long before a player is seriously injured, and with no support players unlike the lineout or the restarts players are now so vulnerable.

Leinster did look more organised, disciplined and structured than Bath, and thanks to Bath's ill-discipline and turnovers Leinster took all their chances, Bath didn't. Leinster still lack a creative spark in the 10, 12, 13 channels, and on couple of occasions especially when Bath were down to 14 players there was plenty of space in behind the Bath defensive line to be exploited. But rather than look up and see the space behind the Bath backs the Leinster backs too often just either buried their heads and ran straight into the opposition, or ran across field with no thought of introducing runners at angles or pace.

Only Fitzgerald looked like he might offer something dynamic, something creative.

As expected Leinster's superior scrum became the dominant feature of the game, especially when Bath replaced Welsh strongman Paul James in the second half, and as a result Bath conceded a lot of penalties and turnovers in this area.

What a luxury it is for Leinster to have somebody like Marty Moore to come off the bench. But to win this competition this year or in the future Leinster need more than just a scrum, they need an X factor, something that Johnny Sexton's much anticipated return and some new off season signings will hopefully bring. They will need a radical makeover before taking on Toulon, but if anyone can do it Leinster can.

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