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Watson: Pain can drive Bath on

England star Anthony Watson believes the pain of Bath's European Champions Cup exit can be a driving force in their push to make this season's Aviva Premiership play-offs.

Watson and company were left to reflect on what might have been at Dublin's Aviva Stadium as six Ian Madigan penalties gave three-time European champions Leinster a tense 18-15 quarter-final success.

Bath dominated for large parts of the second period and claimed tries through fly-half George Ford and captain Stuart Hooper, but hopes of reaching a first top-flight European semi-final since 2006 floundered on their indiscipline.

Attention will now quickly return to the Premiership, with Bath having four games left - against Newcastle, London Irish, Harlequins and Gloucester - in the quest for a top-four finish.

"The overriding emotion is that we are absolutely disappointed," said Bath full-back Watson, whose counter-attacking brilliance was repeatedly showcased against an often stretched Leinster defence.

"To have battled out of the group as we did (Bath lost their first two games) and then obviously to get into the quarter-final, to get so close and then fail at the end, it is obviously massively disappointing.

"But we have to try to take the positives, and I think a disappointment like this is going to help us in the Premiership."

Bath stayed true to the ball-in-hand attacking principles that have lit up much of this season's Premiership campaign, and at times, Leinster struggled to cope.

In Madigan, though, they had a relentless marksman, whose 100 per cent goalkicking return ultimately sent Leinster marching on and Bath left to focus solely on domestic matters.

"To put on an attacking performance and go through the phases like we did against a quality side like Leinster is just going to add more confidence," Watson added.

"I think the way we have been playing this year has been a revelation to be a part of, and I have really enjoyed playing for this club.

"I think the progress we have made throughout the year has been awesome. I think the ethos and everything we are building at the club is going in the right direction."

Watson, meanwhile, paid tribute to his Bath and England team-mate Ford, who scored a brilliant solo try and made a darting break that set up Hooper for a second-half touchdown that meant the visitors were always in sight of their opponents on the scoreboard.

"I cannot speak highly enough of him (Ford), to be honest," Watson said.

"He is probably the best ball player I've played with, albeit in a short space of time of two or three years.

"He has got a very mature head on young shoulders, and it's a real privilege to play outside him."

Bath head coach Mike Ford could not mask his disappointment with the result, believing his team paid the price for an opening 40 minutes when they struggled for fluency and kept giving Madigan scoring chances.

"There is a lot of disappointment," Ford said. "The first-half performance, especially, we are a lot better than that.

"That last 10-15 minutes, I was pretty convinced we were going to win the game, but it's small margins.

"At half-time, we talked about composure.

"We hadn't been able to build any pressure with ball in hand, and there was also the discipline side of things. Madigan was pretty dead-eye, which cost us.

"We put it together second-half, and I think this will make us stronger. We will look back at the end of the season at this game, particularly, and say this is where Bath became very strong.

"I thought Anthony Watson was on fire at full-back, and George made two good breaks for our tries. It was in our control, we thought. Even at 15-5 down, we were confident we could win the game."

And Bath skipper Hooper said: "When you get to this stage of the competition, it is about winning.

"The disappointment is two-fold. One is obviously losing the game and the other is probably the individual mistakes we made, particularly in the first half."


From Belfast Telegraph