17 Jun, 19:25
Ireland pulled clear of hosts Canada with four tries in the closing half hour as they earned a 40-14 victory at the BMO Stadium on Saturday night. Check out some photos from the Toronto tussle.
Last season a final match victory over Gloucester had ensured they survived in the Premiership on points difference but this time the emotions were quite different as they ran in four second-half tries to their rivals one to wrap up a highly successful league campaign under Australian coach John Connolly. Even defeat would not have affected their topping the table as European Cup finalists Wasps were at the receiving end of a record home defeat, 48-17, by a revitalised Leicester, who ran in six tries.
Wasps, the reigning champions, will face a tough clash with Northampton to see if they will play Bath in the showpiece final but with the European Cup final also at Twickenham on May 23rd Lawrence Dallaglio's team face a demanding month.
Bath's renaissance was a suitable farewell season for England's South African-born centre Mike Catt, who is leaving after over a decade at the club for London Irish. "It is disappointing to have to leave," said Catt, whose performances at the World Cup especially in the quarter-final against Wales were instrumental in England's victory.
"The last few weeks have been tough, but we showed we are the champions. I thought (Australian fly-half) Chris Malone was fantastic, and Robbie Fleck is coming into his own.
"It is 10-12 years of fantastic fun but it is a pity to move on. Hopefully I will play in the final but it is an opportunity for the younger boys to get some silverware."
Catt said that they would be celebrating in rather different style to the usual pubstyle. "We've got a Ladies night with 250 of them coming where the boys will parade their stuff!"
Bath's Australian coach John 'Knuckles' Connolly paid handsome troubte to his players for turning it around, though his investment in 14 new players in the close season was credited by Catt as the main difference. "It is a great achievement and a tribute to the players," said Connolly, who was part of the Wallaby backroom in their 1991 World Cup triumph.
"The last couple of weeks we have been playing well in patches and then dropping away, but today we played well for the 80 minutes," added Connolly, who guided Stade Francais to the 2001 European Cup final where they lost to Leicester. Connolly, though, said that he would keep the players sharp in the three week gap between Saturday's match and the final unlike Gloucester last year who finished top but were beaten by Wasps in the one-off match.
"They'll have three days off and then we'll organise a four day training camp and a friendly, so as to keep up to match sharpness," said Connolly.
A shellshocked Gloucester handler Nigel Melville had few excuses. "That was a humiliation, for anyone to do with Gloucester rugby club," said the former England scrum-half.
Gloucester will still have a chance to earn the final European Cup spot as they are in the wild card play-offs along with Leicester Harlequins, whose comeback against Northampton saw them end up one point short beaten 18-17, and Sale, who beat Leeds 31-20.
AFP - 2004.