Bath Rugby came close to turning over Heineken Cup champions Leinster this afternoon, in a passionate and dedicated display at the Recreation Ground, but a try from Matt Banahan and eight points from Olly Barkley were not enough to clinch victory in a hard fought contest. Final Score Bath Rugby 13 Leinster 18.
The game began at an exceedingly fast pace, with Bath using the width of the pitch to full effect, and making considerable ground through a handful of phases. Despite wave after wave of attack, the visitors defence showed its calibre and held out.
The first 15 minutes of rugby had been end to end stuff with both sides making edge-of-the-seat breaks, notably Banahan for Bath and Luke Fitzgerald for Leinster. Only marginal errors and brave defence from either side prevented an early score. However, the home side that struck first after a dozen or more phases had taken Bath to within ten metres of Leinster's try line. The barrage of Bath attackers proved too much for the Irish province who eventually strayed offside allowing centre Barkley to take Bath ahead with a successful penalty conversion. 3-0.
Leinster looked extremely dangerous as the clock reached 25 minutes played, however, it was Bath who had the majority of possession, and seemed to be controlling the play of the game. Bath's consistent pressure looked to paying dividends as once again Leinster were penalised, this time for hands in the ruck. Barkley, on target again, slotted a 30 metre penalty to take the home side six points ahead.
The last five minutes of the half saw Leinster claw back a period of possession and attacked hard at Bath. Some staunch defence prevented what seemed like a guaranteed try for the Irish, and despite conceding a penalty, Bath were let off the hook after Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton sliced his attempt at goal. However, when provided with another chance on the stroke of half-time, he made no mistake, putting the ball between the posts to make the score 6-3.
As the game resumed in the second half, both sides took to battle for another forty minutes of ferocious rugby with Leinster taking the initiative and starting the quicker of the two sides. Within ten minutes the away side had put themselves in two try scoring opportunities, but the staunch defence of the home side, alongside the poor decision making by their Leinster counterparts, meant the Irish were none the better after a dominant opening period. However, the pressure told as Bath gave away a penalty of their own just outside the 22. A penalty for hands in the ruck let Sexton level the scores, with over 25 minutes remaining. 6-6.
Leinster were on the front foot soon after, and after another Bath illegality, Sexton struck another penalty to take his side ahead for the first time in the game. 6-9.
As the game entered the final quarter, a defending penalty to Leinster put Bath under immediate pressure after they were caught out by Sexton switching his anticipated kick-to-touch, to a huge cross field kick to the flying Isa Nacewa who bulleted down the touchline. His blistering speed looked to make him impossible stop, but the reliable Nick Abendanon made a superb covering tackle to stop him in his tracks just short of the try line. However, as Leinster piled on the pressure in the goal area, they again came away with a reward after Bath were penalised for being off their feet, enabling Sexton to add another three points. 6-12.
Throughout the game the home side had been determined and dogged in attitude, and it was through this that they were rewarded with a well worked try, after captain Francois Louw secured the vital turnover. A well-made half break from hooker Chris Biller dragged in the Leinster defence and set up the attacking ruck. Quick recycling from Michael Claassens fed Barkley whose long miss pass found Louw. The South African flanker sweetly offloaded in the tackle to unleash winger Jack Cuthbert, and the Scottish international powered down the touchline, slickly cut inside and offloaded to a supporting Matt Banahan, who crashed over for the touchdown. Barkley added the all-important conversion to take Bath ahead 13-12.
Leinster hit back straight away though, and from the kick off, they exerted immense pressure on the Bath defensive line, that was forced back to within ten metres of the home try line. Bath, defending for their lives, were deemed over exuberant by referee Jerome Garces, who awarded the attacking side with another penalty just left of the uprights. Sexton made no mistake slotting the penalty to take his side ahead once again. 13-15.
Minutes later Louw was sent to the bin with just five minutes remaining, meaning Bath would finish the game with 14 men. The home side battled hard for the remaining few minutes and the game hung in the balance as Bath attacked and Leinster defended. However, the away side's composure prevailed resulting in a stolen line out and another wave of attack. The final play rubbed salt in the wound for the Blue, Black and Whites as they conceded a final penalty, with which Sexton made not mistake to seal the win, and finish the game, 13-18.