Normally sporting clichés annoy me because by their very nature they get used way too often by commentators lacking in imagination.
But one in particular would always get my goat for a different reason : “A great team always finds a way to win even when they're playing poorly”.
Following soccer through the 80s this would often be said about Liverpool FC. Then through the 90s and 2000s it was Manchester United. You will have heard it used in rugby once or twice as well, about Munster during their successful Heineken Cup spell for example.
Ah, so THAT'S why it got my goat! Because it was being applied to teams I don't support (come on you Spurs)! That must be the reason, because I'm more than happy to use it for Leinster's display at the Rec yesterday.
Who's to say what would've happened if Francois Louw hadn't lost all sense of reason at the breakdown under his own posts with the clock running down. The reigning champions were piling on the pressure and could very well have scored anyway. But there's no denying that the South African cost his team their chance at an upset and pretty much cancelled out what had been an excellent personal display up to then.
There's no doubting that Joe Schmidt's Leinster can be described as a “great team”, but on yesterday's evidence they're still not the finished article. All that is needed, it seems, is for his players to realise that now and again it's ok to do the simple thing.
I mean, more often than not you'd back Sean O'Brien to beat two men from five metres anyway, but when there's three unmarked team-mates outside him there is only one option – and if he didn't know they were there, he should have done.
But if ever there's a “good” way to have a bad day at the office, Leinster found it. And it's not the first time their problems have come from turning quality possession into points.
Trouble was, that quality possession wasn't available until the second half, and that is of immense credit to the home side. I'd say they threw the “kitchen sink” at us for the first forty minutes, except given who we were playing, it was more like a tub (apologies...but you surely didn't expect me to avoid a bath pun, did you?).
Yet what was the score going into the break? Just 6-3. And why was that? Because we tackled like demons for the duration, led in the most part by man-of-the-match Jonathan Sexton.
You'd think by the mainstream media headlines that his award came from booting six out of seven placekicks. But when Bath had the ball his channel was closed for business and he clearly demonstrated how an outhalf can be an asset to his team for the entire 80 minutes, not just the final five.
And despite the failures on the offensive front there were more impressive displays around the park. Our back three were unlucky to get on the scoresheet and came within a bounce of a ball (or a turn of Rob Kearney's head the other way) of producing several YouTube moments. Gordon D'Arcy has come in for a lot of stick of late (mostly deserved) yet I felt he earned himself a thumbs up on the day with some powerful running.
Up front we never really dominated but that being said the forwards deserve much credit for keeping the first half penalty count down. Truth be told, the score at the break could easily have been anything up to 21-0 to the home side on a different day.
The only real blip in Leinster's defensive display, I'm afraid to say, came when Sean Cronin took to the field. After his heroics in Montpellier I'm loathe to single him out plus it was super work by Louw to strip the ball off him – but such are the standards at the province these days that when you cough up possession like that and it leads to a try, the spotlight must fall on you. He didn't help his cause with a wayward dart moments later either.
But although the Sky commentary team were doing all they could to jinx the visitors, I have to credit Leinster for their composure en route to regaining the lead. There was definitely no panic to be seen, and when you look at the displays going all the way back to the quarterfinal with Leicester last season I'd almost say they're a better team when they fall behind!
That's not a description Joe Schmidt will enjoy reading, however. What he needs to do it teach his players to take the “x-factor” rugby and find a way to bottle it until they can establish a decent lead. If there's always six or seven points in the bag, I'd much rather have them on the board instead.
Because remember – this is a team that's being considered one of the favourites to win this competition, and going by those standards, just take a look at what Toulouse did on Friday night. They also won away from home, but did so much more comfortably against a club that's having a slightly better season than Bath are.
So to summarise, I'll take the four points until the cows come home, and three points clear with two out of three games left at home is a position any team would be delighted with. Plus the tries aren't exactly flying in elsewhere in the competition – despite the fact we've drawn a match we're just one point behind the pace across the pools so it's all to play for in the return next Saturday.
Here's hoping I can use another cliché in my writeup for that match : “A truly great team makes winning look easy”. JLP
Elsewhere in Europe...
It's three out of three for Munster but my God were they given an early Christmas present at Parc y Scarlets. The home side had shown good form in the opening rounds and were clear favourites here but somehow could not manage to get their act together, and it's not as though they didn't have the chances. The difference was Rhys Priestland who was a shadow of his World Cup self. Having said that, you can only play the opposition that faces you and Tony McGahan's men were solid on defence and should comfortably see themselves into the quarterfinals from here.
As for Ulster, well I'd love to know how many of their fans would have been willing to watch their match with Aironi on the telly, but apparently Sky didn't think it was enough to send a camera team to Ravenhill. Still, they got the job done, and if they can manage a repeat performance in Italy next weekend and somehow Leicester can reverse their defeat to Clermont, they'll be right in the mix come January.
Then there's poor, poor, Connacht. I'm absolutely gutted for them, but more so for their fans. There is just no way of putting a positive spin on four defeats in four home matches in four successive weeks. Can't be done. I mean – you can only stretch the whole “we're happy to be in the Heineken Cup at all” adage so far...I can't imagine that's any consolation for Eric Elwood at this rate. Tiniest crumb of a silver lining could be the display of Dave McSharry at 12 – having penned a deal to stay at the province during the week he could well make some headlines for the province – before being snapped up by a different one, of course!
Finally the Leinster 1st's score in Bath was bettered by the A team by just a point as they ran out 19-13 winners in Llanelli to put them on the verge of the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup. Leo Auv'a just can't stop scoring tries this weather and Noel Reid had a great day with the boot – a solid outing at Donnybrook against London Welsh next week should see them through.