Rhys Ruddock predicted ‘a massive challenge’ from Bath and that is exactly what Leinster encountered at a wet and windy Recreation Ground where Jordan Larmour’s 48th-minute intercept try proved vital for the visitors.

Leo Cullen’s men ground out a hard-fought 17-10 victory with Sean Cronin’s maul try, on the half hour mark, cancelling out a converted Henry Thomas score, leaving the sides level at seven points apiece after a tense and tightly-contested first half.

Winger Larmour swooped on a long James Wilson pass to burst clear from halfway, running in a crucial seven-pointer as Leinster turned the screw. Replacement Ross Byrne’s penalty, eight minutes from the end, gave his side some breathing space before Wilson’s last-minute strike earned Bath a losing bonus point.

With lock James Ryan putting in a man-of-the-match display, the province return home with four big points in terms of the Pool 1 picture, which will become that bit more clearer after next Saturday’s return match with Bath at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.30pm).

A strong swirling wind made life difficult for both sides this afternoon, Rob Kearney gobbling up a Jackson Willison grubber kick to break up an early spell of Bath pressure. A Cronin break showed a glimpse of the visitors’ potent attack, before Tom Ellis warmed up the home support by winning a turnover from Luke McGrath off a scrum.

Captain Jonathan Sexton hit the post with a 25-metre penalty, awarded for a high tackle on Noel Reid, and Bath responded with another turnover, Will Chudley getting a chance to stretch his legs before Leinster won possession back in the form of a scrum. The attritional nature of the opening quarter suited Bath’s industrious pack, and with Dan Leavy under immense pressure at the back of another scrum, they soon struck for the opening try.

Lively England flanker Sam Underhill pinched possession and Tom Dunn drove to within a couple of metres of the line, setting it up for tighthead Thomas to cross in the next phase. Wilson converted the try but Leinster were back level within six minutes, first threatening from a Lowe and Sexton-inspired attack that saw Garry Ringrose weave through midfield.

Bath held out on this occasion, winning another crucial turnover, only for Reid to turn the defence soon after with a clever kick deep into the 22 which led to Joe Cokanasiga leaking a penalty, handing Leinster a gilt-edged lineout opportunity in the process. Their maul duly propelled Cronin over out wide and Sexton equalised with a well-struck conversion.

Bath’s try scorer Thomas popped up on a midfield break with the interval in sight, but Tadhg Furlong did well to track back and force a missed offload. It was Leinster who ended the opening 40 minutes on the front row, bashing away through 20 phases only for Francois Louw to win another breakdown battle.

It was nip and tuck on the resumption with Cian Healy increasing his influence at ruck time, twice winning turnover penalties with the latter one in defence after Underhill had got to a Chudley box-kick. It took an individual error to break the deadlock after Bath played an advantage from a crooked Cronin lineout throw.

Wilson’s double skip pass hung in the air for Larmour to gobble it up and stay clear of the chasing Cokanasiga to go in under the posts. Sexton converted and Leinster, now 14-7 to the good, looked to their forwards to wear down Bath and prevent them from responding.

The visitors’ scrum won a well-earned penalty, and a high tackle from Joe Cokanasiga on McGrath kept the title holders playing in the right areas of the pitch. However, having turned down a shot at the posts with 15 minutes remaining, James Tracy’s lineout throw was stolen by Bath replacement Elliott Stooke.

The Premiership outfit had some more in the tank, flooding forward in search of a levelling try. Knock-ons ruined their approach work on two occasions, the second one allowing Lowe to kick clear and launch a pacy chase along with Jamison Gibson-Park.

Lowe caught Cokanasiga with a strong tackle and replacement Gibson-Park were well placed to win a subsequent penalty, which the fresh-legged Byrne turned in three important points. They were cancelled out right at the death by Wilson, who had missed an earlier kick, but Leinster had won the arm wrestle.