Neither Bath nor Leinster have taken a scalpel to their fifteens this week. The weather, that brutal cocktail of wind, rain and cold, will be more of the same. Talk to Leo Cullen, though, and he will tell you that little else stays the same come the second of these back-to-back European encounters.
“We’ve seen over the years ... just because you win away doesn’t automatically guarantee any success the following week,” he warned yesterday on the back of his side’s somewhat lucky 17-10 defeat of today’s opposition in the West Country.
Leinster’s recent experiences through rounds three and four suggest he has a point.
There have been home and away occasions when both games have been hard-fought and ultimately won by small margins. There have been handsome away wins followed, perplexingly, by losses at home. And Leinster have struggled on the road and then gone to town once back in Dublin.
Take nothing for granted so.
One thing that has changed this week is the backdrop.
The Rec is a cherished but dated edifice, the Aviva a more comfortable and modern effort that, in a strange way, can leave the spectator much colder if the entertainment inside the white lines fails to live up to expectations.
Leinster have used the national stadium for this particular European fixture for the last eight seasons now. They have actually lost three of them, which makes it less of a ‘fortress’ than their usual digs down the road in the RDS.
Clermont, Toulon and Northampton Saints have all had their number here at Christmas time since 2012. Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs have both put the heart across them since then too. Only on two of those eight occasions have Leinster managed to cut loose.
One of them happens to have been against today’s opposition.
Leinster won 52-27 when Bath called seven years ago. Then, as now, the province was fronting up after a close-run thing at the Rec from where they escaped with a narrow win. Some good, some bad, then. Luke McGrath, though, has no qualms about the venue.
“Yeah, the (players) love playing here. When you walk out onto that pitch (yesterday) morning and you see the big stage and knowing that it’s going to be 40-odd thousand might be here or whatever... Hopefully they can bring their umbrellas.
“But it is exceptionally special in there,” said McGrath who grew up a stone’s throw away in Sandymount. “The big crowd brings out the best in you, but the main thing is winning in front of that crowd. I absolutely love playing here.”
Whatever about the stadium, the conditions should again be instructive. It’s only a month or so since New Zealand visited these shores and one of the perceived chinks in their armour was a supposed fallibility in the wind and rain. Coincidence or not, Leinster have struggled in poor conditions and/or on boggy pitches this last six months too. Racing 92 discomfited them in the Champions Cup decider last May in wet and cold conditions. Toulouse had their number in October on a bitch of a pitch and now Bath have made them look close to ordinary on a bitter December day.
It may be nothing. A mere trick of the imagination. A dead end. It’s not as if sides hadn’t tried this strong-arm approach against them before Racing’s impressive shift in Bilbao. Exeter tried to outmuscle them in Sandy Park and in Dublin 12 months ago and failed each time.
It’s an understandable tactic: keep it tight, neuter Leinster’s lightning pace and devastating strike power in the backs and, in the process, keep a tight rein on the scoreboard and bring about a game in which one score or mistake can settle the argument.
It’s a challenge from which Cullen doesn’t shirk.
“We’re trying to add different strings to the game all the time,” he explained at yesterday’s captain’s run. “We need to understand that sometimes you need to roll your sleeves up and do what needs to be done on any given day.
“It’s not our intention. We go out to play with attacking intent all the time but, even in the (Exeter) game last year, it was both teams going fully at it. It was an unbelievably physical affair. That’s what people want to come and see as well.
“There wasn’t that many tries in the game last year. We scored one and Exeter scored two, but it was a pretty enthralling game. It was a great advert for the game, the way both sets of players went at the game.
“That’s what we expect again, we expect the same from Bath. We know that they are under a different type of pressure for themselves and we saw how that manifested itself in last week’s performance again and we expect something very, very similar.”