Champions Cup: Leinster show title credentials with impressive victory over Leicester

·3-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

A stunning first half laid the platform as Leinster sealed their passage into the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup following a 23-14 triumph over Leicester Tigers.

Leo Cullen’s men were utterly superb in the opening period and took a 20-0 lead into the break. Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw both touched down and Johnny Sexton added two conversions and two penalties to leave the hosts stunned.

To Leicester’s credit, they never gave up, controlling much of the next half-hour and creating a number of opportunities, but Chris Ashton’s try was their only reward.

Leinster by and large remained resilient in defence and made sure of their place in the Champions Cup last-four when Ross Byrne kicked a late three-pointer, despite Nic Dolly’s late consolation for the Tigers.

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It was the first significant bump in the road for Steve Borthwick’s Leicester revolution but the size of the defeat was as much a reflection of the challenges facing the Premiership as his team’s shortcomings.

One of only two quarter-finals involving English clubs restrained by reduced salary caps proved the difficulty they face competing against better resourced opponents from Ireland and France.

The gap is only going to widen further next season when the decreased budgets really begin to bite, but on this evidence it is already vast as the Premiership leaders were dismantled by their United Rugby Championship counterparts.

Borthwick’s half-time words certainly galvanised his players and throughout the Tigers played with determination and character, but far more was needed against the four-time European champions.

Leicester’s fire was evident as they tore into the visitors when able to in the opening quarter, but Leinster were smarter and also displayed extra class in attack.

It was brute strength rather than ingenuity that delivered the opening two tries, however, with Van der Flier surging over from the back of a line-out before Henshaw added a second following a succession of drives.

Sexton landed both conversions to compliment his earlier penalty and when James Lowe motored down the left wing to renew the attack, Leinster were very much on the front foot.

Trailing 17-0, the Tigers were unable to get their hands on the ball and when George Ford was able to launch the backline, his snatched pass to Harry Potter was spilt forward by the wing.

The influence of scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park was stamped all over Leinster’s play but the momentum of his pack was making life easy, even in the face of some feverish Tigers defence.

Sexton landed another three points and although the match began to sag beneath the weight of kicking, the first half at least finished with Ashton chasing down a half-chance that was headed off by Hugo Keenan.

Ashton struck six minutes after the interval when he was sent over by Ford as Leicester staged a fightback roared on by a near sell-out crowd whose hopes had been rekindled.

Nemani Nadolo was held up over the whitewash as the assault resumed but Leinster defended manfully and almost scored an opportunist try, only for Jasper Wiese to come to the rescue when Harry Potter attempted an ill-advised kick.

Replacement fly-half Byrne extended the lead to 23-7 and while replacement hooker Nic Dolly completed a maul try in the final minute, the result had long since been settled.

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