Holders Leinster produce strong statement of intent

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Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt could not have been happier after his team inflicted a record Heineken Cup defeat on shell-shocked Bath to open up a six-point lead in Pool Three at a packed Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The seven-try 52-27 rout was the heaviest defeat suffered by Bath in 69 matches in the competition – their previous worst having been a 31-9 loss at Munster in 2000 – and the first time they had conceded 50 points in a Heineken Cup game.

The visitors came back with three late tries to make the final score slightly more respectable, but it was a powerful declaration of intent from the defending champions.

Schmidt said: “We are obviously delighted to get the five points and with the way some of the tries were scored, also some of the running lines, some of the quality in the pass.

“We’ve come a long way from drawing at Montpellier but that was probably only our second or third game together.”

The West Country side had run the Irishmen close six days previously, but this time had no answer to their opponents’ pace and precision, especially in the first hour.

Leinster could even afford to lose captain Leo Cullen to the sin-bin in the first half and still score 14 unanswered points.

Schmidt admitted his team had lacked accuracy in a narrow 18-13 win at Bath the previous week, saying: “I would have hoped we would have been a little bit more accurate last week.

“Fortunately, it was exhibited in fantastic conditions in front of a fantastic crowd.

“I think that’s certainly something that sparks a real enthusiasm among the players.”

The bonus point was secured just 30 seconds into the second half as Luke Fitzgerald sprinted half the length of the field to score his second try.

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton finished with 20 points from a try, drop-goal and six conversions and Leinster’s other scorers were Rob Kearney, Eoin Reddan, Rhys Ruddock and Ian Madigan. Isa Nacewa also kicked a conversion.

Stephen Donald, Dave Attwood and Ben Williams grabbed late tries for Bath and Olly Barkley kicked three conversions and two penalties.

A rejuvenated Fitzgerald might have had a hat-trick but for a forward pass spotted by a touch judge.

Bath first-team coach Brad Davis pointed to some defensive errors by his team but conceded: “I thought the scoreline reflected the game.

“Leinster were absolutely outstanding in showing how to finish off opportunities. Defensively we were off the pace by some margin, though, and at times we made it quite comfortable for Leinster to get yardage.

“They are a quality side. All credit goes to the victors.

“We can take credit from the fact that in the first half we did put pressure on them and with the way the guys kept to their task and scored three tries.

“We’re proud of that but you can’t look too much into that because Leinster took their foot off the pedal a bit.”

Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill has set his sights on a potentially thrilling conclusion to his side’s Heineken Cup pool, and he admitted: “We know exactly what we need to do.”

Cockerill’s men rescued their European campaign from the perils of possible group stage elimination by staging a superb second-half fight-back against French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne to win 23-19 at Welford Road.

It means that Leicester, Clermont and Ulster – comfortable winners over Italian strugglers Aironi on Saturday – remain in the Pool Four shake-up with only one quarter-final place guaranteed.

Leicester go to Belfast when the tournament resumes next month, then end their campaign at home against Aironi.

They are currently two points behind Ulster and one above Clermont.

“To quality from these pools you need to win five of your six games,” former England hooker Cockerill said.

“So we know exactly what we need to do, which is beat Ulster in Belfast and Aironi at home.”

Elsewhere, Gloucester coach Bryan Redpath was relieved but not impressed by his side’s narrow 23-19 Heineken Cup victory over Connacht at Kingsholm.

A late solo try from Jonny May kept Gloucester’s hopes for the competition alive after the Irish province led for most of the game against an out of sorts Gloucester and were less than four minutes away from a shock win.

Niall O’Connor looked to have earned Connacht their first win of the competition when his 72nd-minute penalty put the visitors 19-16 up, but replacement centre May then sailed past two defenders for the decisive score.

Redpath said: “It was a poor performance, we looked a bit nervous and a bit cautious.

“It was a great individual effort to win, but I am relieved to win.”