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PREVIEW: Bath quartet hoping for happier return to Aviva

Wednesday 1st April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Trois fois couronné

Trois fois couronné

The last time George Ford, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Dave Attwood went to the Aviva Stadium, they came away with a bloody nose with England in the RBS 6 Nations.

A few weeks on and they will be back in Dublin hoping to exact revenge on many of the Leinster players who made them suffer while wearing Irish jerseys on that day as the English Grand Slam hopes went up in smoke, 19-9.

Ford will be pretty familiar with Leinster Rugby back rowers Sean O’Brien and Jordi Murphy, as well as Rob Kearney behind the scrum. Attwood, too, will have learned much about the giant Devin Toner and the power of Leinster’s all-international front row options.

Bath will also have a secret ingredient in their squad at the weekend in the shape of Peter Stringer, a man who knows better than most what makes Leinster tick and how to get the best out of a team in the knock-out stage of the European Cup. Head coach Mike Ford is set to include the Irish scrum half in his squad along with fit again Wales prop Paul James.

The return to action of James will be a massive boost for the Bath side because he has experience of going to Dublin and beating Leinster in their own back yard with the Ospreys in two Guinness PRO12 finals. His contribution, if fully match fit, could be crucial on the day.

Leinster have identified the Bath front five as one of the strongest parts of their game and would have been looking forward to seeing their three international props, Jams, Dave Wilson and Henry Thomas, continuing in the sidelines beyond the quarter-finals. James’ return, therefore, is most welcome.

After three successive seasons of winning European silverware, Leinster fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Toulon last season and could well find themselves heading back to the south of France to play the same opposition in Marseille if they can successfully negotiate a seventh win in their 11th quarter-final appearance.

“We’ve won in Toulouse already this year, but we don't want to be the type of team who sits on their laurels and reflects on something that we've done in the past. We've put out performances, but now we need to produce another when we need it,” said Attwood.

“If we want to reach the heights we want to reach, we need to do it on a more consistent basis – and that begins this weekend.”

Given the feel-good factor in Irish rugby at the moment following their back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles, the Aviva Stadium is likely to be buzzing once again. It should be a cracker!

Match Facts

  • Leinster have won six of the 10 quarter finals they have contested in the Champions Cup, including four of the last five.
  • In knockout stages in general, Leinster have lost just two of the last 12 and won the last four in a row against English sides.
  • Bath have lost their last seven in a row against Irish sides in the competition, however three of the last four defeats in that run came by five points or fewer.
  • Only one player has made more carries in this year’s tournament than Jamie Heaslip (83).
  • Ian Madigan is the top scorer in the tournament so far with 80 points, having kicked more successful goals than any other player (30).
  • George Ford has the second highest kick success rate of players to attempt at least 15 shots at goal.
  • Bath have lost five of the six meetings between the sides, which all occurred in the pool stage, though their sole victory against Leinster did come on Irish soil.
  • Five of Leinster’s last six home defeats in the tournament have come at the hands of English opposition.
  • However they have won 30 of their last 33 home matches in the competition.
  • In all European competitions, Bath have won nine of their last 10 away matches.
  • Bath are playing in their sixth Champions Cup quarter-final but their first in six years. They have won two of the previous five.


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REPORT: Leinster in more semi heaven

Saturday 4th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Vainqueur au bout du suspense

Vainqueur au bout du suspense

Former three-times European champions Leinster are through to their eighth tournament semi-final – thanks to the superb kicking of Heineken man-of-the-match Ian Madigan.

Bath scored the only tries of the gripping Aviva Stadium contest but centre Madigan was on target with six from six to soar to 98 points in this season’s competition and clinch Leinster’s prestigious place in the last four.
But they had to hang on in the dying minutes of a grandstand finish for a 18-15 after Bath outside half George Ford had scored one and made the second Bath try.
It was heartbreak for Bath on their first appearance in the knock-out stages for six years, the penalty goal chances they handed Madigan ultimately proving extremely costly.
Both clubs made early efforts to go wide – albeit with errors cutting short promising moves – and a dazzling break out of defence by England wing Anthony Watson was carried on by Matt Banahan before Leinster managed to halt the threat.
But offside gave Madigan, the tournament’s leading points scorer this season, the chance to open the scoring and the centre duly obliged to take his tally to 83 points and give the Irish club first blood.
Ford had an immediate chance to level matters but the Bath No 10 was short with his long range effort and Leinster made the most of the reprieve to go back on the attack.
Bath dug deep defensively before Francois Louw stormed through to give the travelling fans something to shout about and while the first try took 21 minutes in coming it was worth every second of the wait.
Sublime skills by Ford saw him slice open the Leinster defence and glide over for a magnificent solo try.
His attempted conversion bounced back out of the left upright for more points through the boot to go begging and Madigan kicked Leinster back in front with his second successful penalty.
There was more woe for the 1998 champions with Watson shown the yellow card French referee Jerome Garces for his challenge on Rob Kearney from the restart and down to 14 they were further adrift with Madigan making it three from three from the tee.
And luck went Madigan and Leinster’s way when he made that four from four courtesy of a fortunate bounce from the upright that cleared the crossbar to open up a seven-points advantage.
That became 10 as Bath again fell foul of referee Garces and Madigan needed no help from the upright this time.
Leinster suffered an early second half blow when Fergus McFadden needed lengthy treatment after a heavy collision before leaving the action, his replacement Zane Kirchner forced out just short of the line with his first contribution.
But the next decisive action came from Bath – and, again, it came courtesy of some Ford magic as he exploited a gap in the home defence to cut through and send skipper Stuart Hooper plunging over.
Ford was successful with the boot for the first time with the conversion but their joy was short lived before they presented Madigan with a sixth chance to punish their indiscipline on the scoreboard.
And with Leinster turning the screw at scrum time with devastating effect Bath were struggling to stay in touch as they introduced former League legend Sam Burgess into the fray.
Watson again set the place alight with a scything run but former Munster star Peter Stringer was given a rousing reception when he came on for his 100th tournament appearance – the international scrum half only the fourth player to reach that milestone.  
Ford kept Bath’s hopes alive with a successful penalty that cut the home advantage to just three points but Leinster hung on to edge their way into the semi-finals and an away day against either Toulon or Wasps.

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