Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leinster season is at stake in Bath

Sexton and Ford duel can be decisive factor

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip
Jon Sexton

It is all change on the Eastern Front.

The Leinster dressing-room must have resembled a war zone last week as broken bodies and bowed heads tried to take in the meaning of home town humiliation.

Thankfully, Isa Nacewa, Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te'o have shaken off injury to bring greater threat and defensive nous to the three-quarter line.

The knock-on effect has been for Ireland's second choice scrum-half Eoin Reddan to be left out of the squad entirely and for centre Noel Reid to feel the same low.

Where Leinster have gained in the backs, they have theoretically lost out in the pack as hooker Sean Cronin, lock Hayden Triggs and Rhys Ruddock come in for the concussed Richardt Strauss, Mike McCarthy and Sean O'Brien, respectively.

There is no argument to be made about the absence of O'Brien. It could be decisive.

However, Cronin and Triggs can offer Leinster different, not necessarily inferior, options in the front and second rows in order to turn the screw on Bath.

The much-missed Ruddock is the quintessential hard-hitting blindside. His muscle will be needed to compensate for O'Brien.


Presumably, he will also fill the role as the third-choice lock given there is no specialist on the bench.

There are eight new starters and two positional changes as Fergus McFadden moves from centre to wing and Jordi Murphy wears seven instead of six.

The impressive Josh van der Flier is all set for his European debut from the bench and Marty Moore will be the back-up to Ross.

Certainly, Jonathan Sexton's assertion that Leinster thought it would happen without making it happen against Wasps will not do today.

The Nacewa mindset gives a glimpse into the 'no excuse' mentality the full-back drives.

When asked about what a second setback would do for Leinster's season, he was forthright.

"I can't really think like that, so I don't know how to answer that," he said.

The New Zealander will not contemplate another defeat as he looks to lead from the back. There would seem to be no intention to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Leinster have trimmed the fat from their performance and seem likely to vary their approach more against the inventive and invested Premiership finalists of last season.

They need a firm platform at scrum and lineout, where tight-head Ross and 'caller' Devin Toner are two of the more influential protagonists.

There must be a temptation to be more direct in close, through Cian Healy and Ruddock, to emp loy the tactic of earning the right to go wide where Cronin can usually be found lurking.

The father and son combination of Mike and George Ford make for a dangerous brains trust.

The ball movement principles of the coach are carried out precisely by the out-half.

However, the injury prone tight-head David Wilson is nowhere to be seen and the electric Jonathan Joseph is struggling to make the Six Nations.

These are two vital pieces in the puzzle that can be Bath.

The most important is Ford in how he can release weapons like Anthony Watson and Kyle Eastmond.

It could just come down to which out-half can control the tempo.

Leinster have to make it happen.

Bath: A Watson; S Rokoduguni, O Devoto, K Eastmond, M Banahan; G Ford, C Cook; N Auterac, R Webber, H Thomas, D Day, D Attwood, M Garvey, F Louw (capt), L Houston.

Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, H Triggs, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Verdict: Bath.

Bath v Leinster, recreation ground, today (3.15 live bt sport europe)

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