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Leinster Rugby vs Bath Rugby
European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-final
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 4th April 2015, 15:15

Television: Live - BT Sports 1

Leinster fans generally have fond memories of Bath. Not only is it a wonderful place to visit with friendly fans based in a one of England's more beautiful cities, but generally Leinster beat their rugby team. Leinster have faced Bath six times in Europe and have won five times. This includes two great away victories in consecutive seasons in 2005 and 2006.

The game in 2006 was particularly special because it was one of the great Leinster attacking performances as Felipe Contepomi, Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan cut Bath to ribbons. The last time Leinster played Bath was in the Aviva three years ago and it was a comprehensive win as Leinster scored seven tries in a 52-27 win. This Bath team are a very different outfit from the shambles that was hammered that night though.

Utilising their owner Bruce Craig's millions their new coach Mike Ford has built a strong squad full of youthful talent. Their exciting backline in particular has earned much praise, but it's interesting that to see how few of them are actually home grown. George Ford, their coach Mike Ford's son, was signed from Leicester while both Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson were poached from London Irish. Kyle Eastmond and Sam Burgess were both signed from Rugby League and Semesa Rokoduguni was a smart piece of recruitment from the British Army.

Of those six players, only Burgess isn't a full international. "Slammin' Sam" arrived into union with a big reputation and there was the usual nonsense about fast-tracking him into England's World Cup squad as a potential match-winner. Of course, like any league convert who isn't a winger, he's struggled with the intricacies of the game. Though Ford had indicated earlier in the week that Burgess would start, he's actually picked a far most dangerous centre pairing of Eastwood and Joseph. Watson is at full back while the quality Argentinean Horacio Agulla and the massive Matt Banahan occupy the wing spots. George Ford and Micky Young are the halves.

In the pack they've been boosted by the return of Welsh international Paul James to the scrum. In the absence of their two top tightheads, young Kane Palma-Newport gets the number three jersey while the mobile Rob Webber is at hooker. The skipper Stuart Hooper and England international Dave Attwood form the second row. Carl Fearns is a fairly tough nut at blindside and New Zealander Leroy Houston is at number eight. The key man in the pack though is Springbok openside Francois Louw. He's a quality operator in every aspect of the game and his battle at the breakdown with Sean O'Brien will be key to the game. Sam Burgess has to make do with a place alongside Irish veteran scrum-half Peter Stringer.

For Leinster there are nine changes to the team that started last week. Rob Kearney returns at full back with Luke Fitzgerald coming in on the left wing. His impressive show off the bench last week gets Isaac Boss the nod at scrum-half. In the pack there are six changes with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip all coming in to start.

Bath have lost their last seven games in a row against Irish sides in the competition. This is their first quarter-final in six years and even that looked highly unlikely when they were beaten in their first games of the pool. But their win away in Toulouse was probably the performance of the tournament so far and if Leinster persist with their daft tactics of lamely kicking down the middle, their backline could have a field day. Also their four England internationals who featured in the team well beaten by Ireland in the Aviva, Ford, Watson, Joseph and Attwood, will be supremely motivated to atone for their disappointment last month.

Leinster have played 10 quarter-finals before, but they've never approached one with a worse run of form, as they've now only one win from their last six games and that was against Zebre. Of course having Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy back is massive and perhaps some good individual performances plus an edge in the scrums will get them home.

However if Bath can get parity up front they have enough talent and ambition in the backs to do a number on a desperately uninspired Leinster side.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Bath Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Anthony Watson
Fergus McFadden 14 Horacio Agulla
Ben Te'o 13 Jonathan Joseph
Ian Madigan
12 Kyle Eastmond
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Matt Banahan
Jimmy Gopperth 10 George Ford
Isaac Boss 9 Micky Young

Cian Healy 1 Paul James
Sean Cronin 2 Rob Webber
Mike Ross 3 Kane Palma-Newport
Devin Toner 4 Stuart Hooper (C)
Mike McCarthy 5 Dave Attwood
Jordi Murphy6 Carl Fearns
Sean O'Brien 7 Francois Louw
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Leroy Houston

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Ross Batty
Jack McGrath 17 Nick Auterac
Marty Moore 18 Max Lahiff
Tom Denton 19 Matt Garvey
Dominic Ryan 20
Alafoti Faosiliva
Eoin Reddan21 Peter Stringer
Gordon D'Arcy 22 Sam Burgess
Zane Kirchner 23 Tom Homer

Not Considered
due to Injury
Edward Byrne,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Rhys Ruddock,
Kane Douglas

David Wilson,
Henry Thomas
Officials Referee: Jerome Garces (France),
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos and Patrick Pechambert (France),
Fourth Official: Maxime Chalon (France),
Citing Commissioner: Yves Thieffine (France),
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-04-03

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