On a freezing day in Bath, Leinster delivered with ice-cool precision to secure a bonus-point victory before half-time. Jimmy O’Brien scored four of their 10 tries as the Irish province boosted their hopes of a favourable draw in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup. If there was a positive for the hosts, they displayed no lack or spirit or effort, but were hopelessly outclassed by a Leinster outfit crammed with international quality.
The Bath coach, Neal Hatley, had likened the Leinster fly-half Jonathan Sexton to Yoda before kick-off, with England’s new recruit Orlando Bailey in the role of Luke Skywalker: a box-office duel between opposing No 10s at very different stages of their careers. It was a catchy line but there could be no question, by the end, which player had demonstrated true mastery of their art. Sexton was sublime as he so often is: passing and kicking with relentless accuracy and variation, unleashing Leinster’s glittering array of attacking talent, leaving Bath bereft. The Premiership side were too often undermined by a misfiring set piece.
Before last week’s 13-try demolition of Montpellier, Leinster had not played for five weeks due to Covid-19-related disruption, and if the senior coach Stuart Lancaster wished to see his defence properly tested, he got his wish in the first 10 minutes. Bath tore into the contest and Jacques du Toit’s powerful run from close range, after Bath had won a penalty from the kick-off, asked an early question. But the visitors held firm and once Leinster repelled an initial spell of pressure it was one-way traffic.
Leinster appeared to have taken the lead when O’Brien dotted down following Sexton’s polished grubber kick. But after a lengthy TMO review, Jordan Larmour was correctly adjudged to have pulled back Bath’s Max Clark. A deafening mixture of laughter and disbelief from the home support, watching replays on the big screen, appeared to prompt a rethink from Italian referee Andrea Piardi.
It remained scoreless after 15 minutes and things were starting to warm up when Bath’s Sam Underhill took a bang to the head and was taken off. The hosts had also lost the No 8 Josh Bayliss to injury a minute before, prompting an early restructure in the back row.
With Underhill out of action it did not take for Leinster to cross the try line. After strong work by the British & Irish Lions back row Jack Conan, Leinster span the ball left and a clinical pass by Hugo Keenan allowed O’Brien to touch down for the opening score. Josh van der Flier’s athletic sprint, running a superb line on to a Robbie Henshaw pass, brought the second try. The prompting of Sexton was causing endless problems for Bath’s overworked defenders.
Another stunning piece of timing and precision sent Larmour racing to the line for try number three. It was 19-0 in double-quick time and beginning to look like a long afternoon for Bath. But a fine steal and galloping run by Charlie Ewels, followed by a composed offload to Clark, brought a try for Bath and a rousing cheer from the home support.
No panic from Leinster. Henshaw was soon crashing into space from the right wing and another laser-guided grubber by Sexton popped up perfectly for O’Brien to finish. Bonus point sealed. Ciaran Frawley bashed over before the break for the fifth try and a score of 33-7.
Bath’s Gabriel Hamer-Webb was sin-binned five minutes after half-time for a deliberate knock-on and Andrew Porter was soon pushed over the line, the sixth try making it 40-7. Sexton’s perceptive cross-kick to the corner, switching the point of attack completely, allowed O’Brien the space to score his hat-trick. Another fluent wave of passing prompted by Sexton’s chip kick into space saw Keenan crash over.
Max Deegan was sin-binned for an off-the-ball hit on the Bath scrum-half Ben Spencer, on a rare foray into the Leinster 22, but at 14-a-side, the hosts could still not trouble the scorers. Dan Sheehan romped over the line for Leinster’s latest score with 10 minutes left, latching on to Jamison Gibson-Park’s pass, and O’Brien raced on to a kick from deep to add his fourth, and Leinster’s 10th try, of another sobering afternoon for Bath.