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Thursday 20 June 2019

Blues on the charge

Leinster to overpower depleted Bath

IMPRESSIVE RUN: Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen Photo: Sportsfile
IMPRESSIVE RUN: Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen Photo: Sportsfile

The list is long and distinguished.

Wales' Toby Faletau, Luke Charteris, Aled Brew and Rhys Priestland, England's Zach Mercer, Freddie Burns, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph number among those unavailable to got out for Bath at the Recreation Ground this afternoon.

It leaves the English West Country club under-manned and under-mined for what is now considered the greatest test in European club rugby.

Trampled

God knows who Director of Rugby Todd Blackadder will send over to Dublin next week should they get trampled on at home.

It is often instructive to listen to the outside opinion of how this Leinster measures up to the champion Blues that have gone before in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Former Leicester Tigers and England wing Austin Healey, a two-time European Cup winner, prices Leinster's value high - very high.

"I think they're the best of all-time, if I had to pick one out," said Healey in his role as a pundit for BT Sport.

"They are a sensational side to watch and, in the group stages last year, they were brilliant.

"They've got the front-five playing like midfield backs, everyone's off-loading and they play with such confidence.

"They are the sort of team you dream of playing in. That is the biggest compliment you can pay them."

Wow! Better than three-in-a-row Toulon. Better than Emile N'Tamack's Toulouse. Better than everyone.

This is not the sort of chat Leo Cullen wants to hear on the cusp of a pivotal point in Pool 1.

Leinster have dropped points to Toulouse. They cannot afford to come unstuck again.

TOP TALENT: Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton and backs coach Felipe Contepomi during the captain’s run at the Recreation Ground, Bath yesterday
TOP TALENT: Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton and backs coach Felipe Contepomi during the captain’s run at the Recreation Ground, Bath yesterday

Or else, they will struggle to make it as far as the quarter-finals, never mind into the conversation about being the best of the 23 previous winners of this competition.

"There's not much margin for error over the course of the pool," said Cullen.

"We're just going to scrap for every point we can, we got a losing bonus point that day.

Losing

"Once upon a time, a losing bonus point in France was not that bad a result."

That was then. This is now.

Leinster go into this one with Dan Leavy set for just his fourth start at number eight on his 59th appearance for the province.

Cullen has taken the decision to leave Scott Fardy out of the 23 with Ross Molony backing up Devin Toner and James Ryan.

This makes room for James Lowe to lurk on the left wing and Jamison Gibson-Park to back up Luke McGrath at scrum-half.

The most interesting individual match-up could be down Leinster's right wing where Jordan Larmour will use his experience against Clermont's Nemani Nadolo to curb the explosiveness of Joe Cokanasiga.

This will swing on the service of ball from those inside.

The heavy pitch and Bath's battling qualities could make this closer than expected.

The champions simply have to be focussed on four points first.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see Jonathan Sexton go for the corner early in order to stamp their authority.

Bath: R McConnochie; R Rokoduguni, J Willison, J Roberts, J Cokanasiga; J Wilson, W Chudley; N Catt, T Dunn, H Thomas, D Attwood, C Ewels (capt), T Ellis, S Underhill, F Louw. Replacements: J Walker, J van Rooyen, M Lahiff, E Stooke, M Garvey; K Fotuali'i, C Vuna, A Davies.

Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, N Reid, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, D Leavy. Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, J Conan; J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, R O'Loughlin.

Verdict: Leinster

  • CHAMPIONS CUP: BATH v Leinster, Live BT Sport 2 (Today, 5.15)

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