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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Other Unions / Teams: O'Driscoll's genius leaves Bath contemplating tricky away tie

He 'might have died' but Brian O'Driscoll is back and firing on all cylinders. Playing a major role in his club, Leinster, overcoming perennial English challengers, Bath.

South African interest: Frikkie Welsh (pictured) and Matt Stevens.

By Mark Souster

Bath 23 Leinster Lions 35

SO MUCH for the best laid plans. Having already qualified for the last eight of the Heineken Cup, Bath needed a win or a losing bonus point to ensure a home draw in the quarter-finals. That would have earned them a tie against Munster at the Recreation Ground and half a chance of the semi-finals. Instead, they have a trip to Leicester after being systematically dismantled by the corruscating brilliance of a Leinster Lions back division inspired by the genius of Brian O’Driscoll. The only downside for Leinster is that their victory means they have a trip to Toulouse to contend with.

Even after playing second fiddle for the bulk of proceedings, and after a late flourish in total contrast to what they had produced before, Bath still had a chance to push for that vital third try that would have taken them to within seven points of their opponents. In the seventh minute of added time they won a penalty. They had to kick for the corner and hope to maul their way over.

Chris Malone, who had come on as a replacement for Olly Barkley 15 minutes earlier, stepped up but failed miserably to find touch. That was it. Not that Brian Ashton, the Bath coach, was looking for excuses. “We lost the game and didn’t deserve a home tie,” he said. “We turned over ball and they murdered us in the first 20 minutes.”

The key was the platform laid down by the Leinster forwards. They were up against a formidable Bath eight that had throttled the life out of some serious teams. Yesterday the Irish team more then held their own, nullified the Bath maul and forced a series of turnovers from which O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Shane Horgan cut some beautiful lines of running. Under Michael Cheika, their Australian coach, Leinster have evolved a dynamic between forwards and backs, and an ability to offload in the tackle and support the ball carrier that has not always been evident. “We played some smart rugby,” O’Driscoll said.

Leinster, who had to win to qualify as a best runner-up, hit the traps at speed and were 21 points up within 18 minutes. First, Felipe Contepomi, who converted all his side’s tries, tapped a penalty near his own line and set O’Driscoll loose. He fed Denis Hickie, whose astute cross-field kick was picked up in midfield by Shane Horgan. The wing cantered under the posts.

Contepomi then intercepted a pass by Barkley to run 75 metres to the corner for the second, pursued fruitlessly by Nick Walshe. But the best was to come. Having been put into space by D’Arcy, O’Driscoll, in only his fourth start after his dreadful shoulder injury, scythed through midfield and exchanged passes with his fellow centre. When he needed support he found it in the unlikely form of Will Green, the prop. Two penalties by Barkley were all Bath had to show at half-time.

Early in the second half Leinster were denied a fourth try by Jamie Heaslip for a forward pass by Green, but O’Driscoll then bamboozled the Bath defence to gift Horgan his second and the Ireland captain wrapped up things himself after interchanging with Heaslip. Bath’s furious late response, which brought tries by Michael Stephenson and Matt Stevens, left one wondering why they had not taken off the shackles earlier.

SCORERS: Bath: Try: Stephenson (73min), Stevens (78). Conversions: Malone 2. Penalty goals: Barkley 3 (10, 24, 58). Leinster Lions: Tries: Horgan 2 (5, 59), Contepomi (13), Green (19), O’Driscoll (69). Conversions: Contepomi 5.

SCORING SEQUENCE (Bath first): 0-7, 3-7, 3-14, 3-21, 6-21, (half-time); 9-21, 9-28, 9-35, 16-35, 23-35.

BATH: M Stephenson; A Higgins, T Cheeseman, S Finau, F Welsh; O Barkley (rep: C Malone, 72), N Walshe (rep: A Williams, 70); D Flatman (rep: D Bell, 41), L Mears, M Stevens, S Borthwick (rep: L J Hudson, 74), D Grewcock, A Beattie, M Lipman, G Delve (rep: P Short, 70).

LEINSTER LIONS: G Dempsey (rep: R Kearney, 41); S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Hickie; F Contepomi (rep: K Lewis, 80), G Easterby; R Corrigan, B Blaney (rep: D Blaney, 80), W Green (rep: E Byrne, 66), B Williams, M O’Kelly (rep: A Byrnes, 80), C Jowitt (rep: E Miller, 36), KGleeson, J Heaslip.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

Attendance: 10,600.

Glad to see he's back, and still alive! Great player  
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