Reggie Corrigan stressed last week that the improvement in Celtic League standards meant that there isn't quite the same jump to the Celtic League as in previous years. However, he admitted at their press conference yesterday, that their first quarter against Treviso was unlike anything that the season had thrown at them to that point.
This week the jump will be even greater. Bath are one of England's traditional powerhouses, former winners of this tournaments, and under John Connolly, are regaining their formidable status.
Under Connolly, Bath haven't played the most expansive of rugby, relying more on a pack that is nothing if not abrasive. The second row of Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock offers them an aggressive and powerful engine room, and the battle with O'Kelly and Cullen will be crucial to the outcome. The backrow battle will also be worth keeping an eye on. Andy Beattie was man of the match last week in Bath's solid 22-12 win over Bourgoin, and with support from Zak Feaunati, messrs Miller, Costello and Jennings will have their work cut out.
The conflict in the centre alone will be worth the admission price. O'Driscoll and D'Arcy v Fleck and Tindall. Delicious.
It is a conflict Tindall, for one, is looking forward to
Last weekend in bad conditions, we still managed to play some rugby and scored three good tries. I don't think were too worried about that. We'll do our own attacking, obviously they're a threat but I think they will be worried about the threat our backs pose as well. Therein lies the difficulty. The temptation is to characterise this as Bath's forwards against Leinster's backs. But both sides have the capacity to turn that on its head.
Bath got off to a slow start in the Zurich Premiership but their 19-16 defeat at home to Wasps was only their first in five league matches, a run that included an away draw at Leicester and four wins. While they are not renowned travellers, that away draw against Leicester was a deserved one in which they fronted up up front in the den of the league leaders.
For Leinster, their win away to Treviso, while not exactly a clarion call, sets them up well for what is reckoned to be a 'must win' in terms of qualifying from the group. Leinster will feel that they have the equipment out wide to do damage to a side that has, in Chris Malone, a nice footballer but by no means a speed merchant at fullback.
Declan Kidney has brought Eric Miller back in place of the unlucky Aidan McCullen, and Girvan Dempsey, an original selection last week until being laid low by sickness, returns at the expense of Gary Brown, dropped for the first time this season. Miller should relish the physicality of this one.
David Holwell is now out of time for adjusting to Northern Hemisphere rugby, and his joust with Olly Barkley will be another key to the outcome. Brian O'Meara may not pose the breaking threat that Martyn Wood does, but he has displayed a good all-round game to date this season.
Shane Byrne joins the august company of team-mate Victor Costello and five other in becoming just the 7th player to achieve 50 Heineken Cup outings, a feat feted by Declan Kidney during the week as 'a tribute to his professionalism, not just in the way he plays, but in the way he looks after himself'. Hear, hear.
You look at the matches that Bath have endured to date this year and figure they are considerably more battle-hardened. But it's difficult to believe that they sheer depth of talent in this Leinster side won't manifest itself. Leinster are aware that they have yet to hit their straps this season and that it is time to deliver. The war may be won by the occasional blitzkrieg out wide, but Leinster will have to ensure that any casualties in the trenches are at least shared equally. Leinster to shade it. If they can show enough patience. But you may be well advised to bring along some 'Stop'n'Grow'.
Leinster: 15: Girvan Dempsey 14: Shane Horgan13: Brian O'Driscoll12: Gordon D'Arcy11: Denis Hickie