Adam Byrne, captain for the night Ross Molony and Barry Daly all crossed the Donnybrook whitewash but Leinster’s final Bank of Ireland pre-season game ultimately ended in a 20-point defeat to Bath…
Ahead of next Friday’s GUINNESS PRO12 opener against Benetton Treviso at the RDS, Leinster welcomed back some familiar faces to their starting line-up for the visit of the Aviva Premiership outfit to south Dublin.
Rob Kearney made his first appearance since last May’s league decider with Connacht, alongside Adam Byrne and Garry Ringrose in the back-three, while Cian Healy and Mike McCarthy both returned to the starting pack.
Summer recruit Jamison Gibson Park partnered Joey Carbery at half-back, and in an eight that blended youth and experience, lock Ross Molony assumed the role of captain for the night.
Leinster donned their brand new alternative yellow strip for this match, but it was Bath who broke the deadlock courtesy of a routine 30-metre penalty by Rhys Priestland.
This was not the kind of start that the hosts were hoping for in front of a crowd of 3,982, and they fell further behind just three minutes later – an incisive move on the left flank led to a try from second row Dave Attwood.
Bath, who faced Leinster in last season’s Champions Cup pool stages, attacked with great intent during the early exchanges, and a successful conversion by Priestland ensured they held an early 10-point advantage.
Indeed, the visitors put even greater daylight between the teams when Priestland added a second penalty on 13 minutes. Leinster found it difficult to settle into their usual rhythm of play, but they eventually opened their account just three minutes later.
From Leinster’s first significant attack of this lively contest, Rob Kearney’s precise pass provided Adam Byrne with the opportunity to dive over the whitewash from close range. Carbery was off target from a tricky touchline conversion, but he had another shot at the posts towards the end of the first quarter.
After Leinster had transferred the play from the right wing to a more central area, Molony claimed his side’s second try by crashing over underneath the posts – and Carbery was on hand to add the bonuses to this well-worked five-pointer.
Leo Cullen’s charges were now playing with a greater degree of confidence, but after weathering considerable storm by the home side, Bath hit back with their second try of the opening half.
Jeff Williams was in the right place to touch down towards the right corner, and another exceptional conversion by Priestland helped Todd Blackadder’s men to establish a 20-12 lead at the interval.
An extended spell of pressure inside the Bath 22 just before the half-time whistle almost yielded another try for Leinster, but with a total of eight changes during the break, they were hoping to eat into the Bath lead on the restart.
It did take both teams a while settle in the second half, but as the third quarter progressed, it was Leinster who appeared to be the most threatening.
They could not quite break down the well-drilled Bath defence, however, and following much persistence inside the Leinster 22 by the Englishmen, an audacious offload from replacement Rory Jennings left winger Semesa Rokoduguni with the simple task of crossing over on the right flank.
England out-half George Ford, who had taken over the kicking duties from Priestland, watched his conversion effort from wide out hit the woodwork, but with just 15 minutes remaining, Leinster now faced into a 13-point deficit.
Following some excellent approach work by Rory O’Loughlin, replacement Barry Daly did claim a 72nd minute try. Ross Byrne stepped forward to convert this effort, but Bath effectively sealed their triumph with a breakaway try from Academy star Harry Davies five minutes from time.
The introduction of Sean McNulty in the latter stages meant that Leinster used 31 players in total on the night, yet it was Bath who had the final say as Ford broke through for a well-taken seven-pointer right at the death.
REFEREE: Frank Murphy (IRFU)