Bath claim narrow win against Leinster in their delayed European Champions Cup on Saturday
George Ford’s 76th-minute penalty proved the difference between the two evenly-matched sides.
Leinster have now lsot their opening two pool games for the first time since 1996 with back-to-back games against Toulon to come
Number 8 Leroy Houston was sent to the sin bin with two minutes to play for Bath after a high tackle on Dave Kearney.
Jonny Sexton’s 11-points for the visitors today takes his total points tally to over 500 in European rugby
Bath Rugby were able to get their delayed European Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start with a narrow victory against three times champions Leinster at the Rec.
George Ford’s 14-points from the tee combined with a penalty try were enough to see Bath home in an incredibly close game contested by two evenly matched sides.
Leinster now have a mountain to climb after losing their opening two pool games for the first time since 1996 with things getting no easier for the Irish province in the next rounds of fixtures as they have back-to-back clashes against reigning champions Toulon to come.
Both sides started the game brightly, looking to work the ball wide at pace. Leinster, looking for a reaction following last weekend’s disappointing loss to Wasps, started very physical in defence with centre Ben Te’o leaving his mark on George Ford early with a huge hit.
The away side opened the scoring after seven minutes through the boot of Ireland international Jonny Sexton, after Bath were penalised for going in off their feet in front of the posts.
Bath enjoyed most of the early possession and territory, and after they had been awarded a penalty at the scrum, Ford was eventually able to level the scores from the tee after 15 minutes.
The hosts continued to boss the game at the set piece, and with a penalty advantage still being played, fly-half Ford knocked over a drop-goal to give his side the lead, 6-3.
Bath captain Stuart Hooper thought he had scored the first try of the game on the half-hour mark, but the score was chalked off as winger Matt Banahan had knocked the ball on in the build-up to the try.
Leinster finished the first half strongly and would have been frustrated they couldn’t convert good possession into points. Bath’s defence was excellent when it looked certain the Dublin side would cross the whitewash.
Bath went in at the half-time break with a narrow lead, in what had been a very even and competitive first half.
Bath continued their excellent scrummaging into the second half and were awarded another penalty that Ford successfully kicked from the 10-metre line, 9-3.
Leinster hit back with two penalties from Sexton to get back level, 9-9.
The home side though regained the lead just after the hour mark as more dominance at the scrum resulted in a penalty try. Ford was able to add the extras to give Bath a seven-point lead.
Knowing nothing but a win would do, Leinster began to throw everything they had at Bath in the last 20 minutes.
Despite robust Bath defence, Leinster finally crossed the whitewash after replacement back row Josh De Flier was able to power through Watson to touch down in front of the posts. A successful Sexton conversion tied the scores, with ten minutes to play, 16-16.
Leinster missed an opportunity to take the lead after Sexton’s attempted penalty from inside his own half fell just short with seven minutes remaining.
Changes to the front row didn’t halt Bath’s dominance in the scrum, as they were awarded their sixth penalty. Ford showed nerves of steel kicking the penalty straight through the middle from an awkward angle to regain the lead for his side with minutes remaining, 19-16.
Bath would have to see out the remaining minutes down to 14 men, after number eight Leroy Houston was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Dave Kearney.
The hosts though were able to hold on to gain their first European points of the season following the definition of a grandstand finish,
MAN OF THE MATCH
Bath: George Ford
Ford was instrumental in his side’s victory today, showing real maturity under pressure with his kicking game. The fly-half didn’t miss from the tee, and showed great composure to kick the winning penalty from a difficult angle. He also was able to control the game and keep the ball down in Leinster’s half with his tactical kicking, taking the pressure off his side at some crucial times.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9, Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw (c), 6 Matt Garvey, 5 David Attwood, 4 Dom Day, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Nick Auterac.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Stuart Hooper, 20 Alafoti Fa’osiliva, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (c), 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dominic Ryan, 20 Josh Van Der Flier, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner.
Date: Saturday, November 21
Venue: The Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Salem Attalah (France), tbc (France)
TMO: Bruno Bessot (France)