The Aviva has been a happy hunting ground for these players, whatever shirts are on their backs, lately.
A rejuvenated Ireland swept it all before them in this place last month, and Leinster was at the heart of it. Twelve of Leo Cullen’s squad were on duty for the thrilling victory over the All Blacks.
The Irish front pack, in particular, has a distinctly blue tint these days. The all-in-action frontline of Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong has done all kinds of damage. Caelan Doris, meanwhile, was named the best player of the entire fall series.
The Leinster backrower has been nothing short of phenomenal throughout November. Josh van der Flier plays like someone who arrives at practice every day and sees Dan Leavy, Will Connors and Scott Penny eyeing his starting spot.
The Wicklow flanker has always been industrious and committed. It looks like the real deal these days. The big question remains: if this batch can inflict so much suffering on teams like New Zealand, how much carnage will they cause at club level this season?
We had a first glimpse of such a result on RDS last Friday evening. Connacht arrived in the capital in a spirit rich in form and full of confidence. Visitors also got off to a good start.
The attackers were making holes. Jack Carty was pulling the strings and Mack Hansen hovered over Jordan Larmour to take the ball out of the Dublin night sky to score the first try.
Slowly, however, Leinster found his rhythm. Their pack of heavyweights, carried by Porter and a few of his comrades, began to take control. The West were intimidated out of the game long before the final whistle.
The 28-point loss margin was tough for Connacht, but there was no discussion with the chasm in class. Dan Sheehan’s solo effort was the highlight of the evening.
Kelleher is very much in the mold of the modern whore: big, fast and explosive. Sheehan has all of these attributes as well.
Hansen reportedly cringed during Monday morning’s video review as the Leinster’s frontrower stepped on the Australian-native wing before setting off on a 20-meter run to the test line.
Kelleher had produced a similar finish against Glasgow earlier in the season. These two could go head to head, at the provincial and test levels, for the next 10 years.
This is one of the main reasons for the continued success of this operation. There is so much depth and competition in Leinster’s squad that complacency is rarely an issue.
The hosts are deprived of Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and Jack Conan for this mission. Stuart Lancaster didn’t seem too stressed out about getting into this first European game without the influential trio.
“It’s not bad to have Caelan Doris as an option at No.8 to be fair,” the Leinster senior coach said earlier this week.
“You have Ross and Harry (Byrne) and Ciaran Frawley and Garry (Ringrose) and Robbie (Henshaw), so we have options. I think the trick for us is to build on the performance of Connacht, get the cohesion we want and deliver it on Saturday.
“The other guys will come back into the mix. These are not bad additions to add to your squad because you then play in France (against Montpellier next Friday), you know that Johnny, Jack and James Ryan will potentially be available, that will make the difference.
Even without these absentees, it’s a serious team. A Covid-19 outbreak at the camp on Friday morning – with three anonymous players returning positive tests – failed to weaken the team.
In the absence of Sexton and Ryan, Rhys Ruddock takes the captain’s armband and is joined in a fully international backrow by Van der Flier and Doris. Ross Molony is the lone uncapped forward in the field, which stars Ryan Baird after his latest eye-catching cameo for Ireland against the Pumas.
Jamison Gibson-Park is back in the scrum half after a transformative fall in the green jersey. As always, Ross Byrne has been given the No. 10 jersey for a major European meeting. Time and time again, Leinster relies on Byrne’s older brother for missions like this.
Firepower isn’t lacking outside of him either, with Garry Ringrose fresh off signing a three-year contract extension with the IRFU, James Lowe, Larmour and Hugo Keenan all on duty.
Ciaran Frawley gets a big opportunity down center in the absence of Henshaw. Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Max Deegan, and Luke McGrath are all ready to come off a stacked bench.
You’ll wonder what the Bath players were thinking when their flight touched down on the tarmac at Dublin Airport on Friday. England lockdown Charlie Ewels leads a Callow side although Ben Spencer, Semesa Rokoduguni and Tom de Glanville are good operators.
The Premiership team is anchored at the bottom of the league, with nine of nine losses and a points differential of -136. Stuart Hooper’s coaching staff are under heavy pressure to get things back on track before 2022.
Many visiting teams have had a rough time at Irish HQ lately. The All Blacks would attest to this. Bath looks set to suffer the same fate here.
LEINSTER: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, R Baird; R Ruddock (captain), J van der Flier, C Doris. Representatives: D Sheehan, C Healy, M Ala’alatoa, D Toner, M Deegan, L McGrath, J O’Brien, T O’Brien.
BATH: T de Glanville; S Rokoduguni, W Butt, M Ojomoh, W Muir; O Bailey, B Spencer; L Boyce, J du Toit, W Stuart; J McNally, C Ewels (captain); T Ellis, R de Carpentier, J Bayliss. Liaisons: T Dunn, A Cordwell, D’Arcy Rae, W Spencer, E Richards, J Simpson, G Hamer-Webb, T Prydie. Referee: P Brousset (France). TV: Kick-off 3.15, LIVE on BT Sport