Leinster march into the Champions Cup semi-finals with a win at Leicester
When you’re playing in the backyard of the Premier League leaders, a notoriously difficult away venue, a quick start is crucial. Storming into a 17-0 lead within the first 22 minutes is as good as it gets.
elford Road were in motion well before kick-off but it didn’t take Leinster long to find their groove and silence the home crowd.
The first half showed Leinster at their best, the second was all about their tenacity and determination.
Any fears that the first-choice side might be rusty after a three-week break were allayed as Leo Cullen’s men outclassed Leicester to set up a Heineken Champions Cup heavyweight semi-final against Toulouse next weekend at the Aviva Stadium.
Having won just one of their last four games at Welford Road it was a real statement for Leinster’s title qualifications as they now have their sights set on the defending champions.
As expected, Leicester brought their kick-heavy game plan, but Leinster were armed and ready to attack, with the pack ahead in big style.
Leinster had the edge in the scrum, with French referee Mathieu Raynal in the spotlight, while the visitors’ aggressive line speed repeatedly forced Leicester to make mistakes on the winning line.
Robbie Henshaw led the way with a superb defensive performance, while Caelan Doris’ baggage and James Ryan’s return were also important factors.
Jamison Gibson-Park was excellent throughout, as the sharp pauses and reassuring presence of the scrum half helped stabilize the ship.
Thanks to attempts from Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier, Leinster led 20-0 at the break and looked like they could pull away only for the Tigers to threaten to pull off what would have been a stunning comeback.
It wasn’t to be, however, because although Leinster scored just three points in the second half, the damage was already done, with the only downside being injuries to Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and Jimmy O’Brien. Luckily all three players looked good after the final whistle.
Sexton took an early penalty to give his side the lead and when Leicester threw it all at Leinster the visitors were able to withstand the pressure.
Ryan and Sexton combined brilliantly for a double tackle on Ollie Cheesum, forcing a hit and disrupting the Tigers’ flow.
With Leinster weathering the storm, his confidence grew and they felt blood as James Lowe and Gibson-Park combined well in a counterattack that saw Hugo Keenan gaining a lot of ground.
Leicester erased their first attempts but Leinster stayed patient and when they won a five-yard line they looked for all the world to put up the driving maul, only for Van der Flier to cleverly peel back and force through Harry Potter on his way across the line.
Sexton converted and soon added the extras for Leinster’s second attempt. Henshaw started the move with a strong carry from an alley before the standout center found himself a few yards off the line a few stages later.
Despite George Ford’s best efforts, Henshaw could never be stopped from that distance as Leinster built up a comfortable 17-0 lead.
The home fans grew increasingly frustrated, particularly at Raynal, and when Ryan came up with a crucial lineout steal close to his own line, it added to the dismay around Welford Road.
At half-time, Sexton still had time to add a second penalty thanks to Gibson-Park’s superb jackal turnover after a superb Garry Ringrose tackle on Freddie Steward.
Leinster were sluggish after the start and Leicester made them pay when Ford cornered Chris Ashton with the defense stretched.
Ford switched and suddenly the momentum was with the hosts. Another scrum penalty resulted in a kickable shot off the post, but they rolled and headed for the corner.
A combination of Van der Flier, Jimmy O’Brien and Dan Sheehan kept the hulking Nemani Nadolo over the line but we went back for an earlier offside injury. Leinster was on the ropes only for Ryan to pinch his second five-yard line to soften the attack.
It was brief respite, however, and without Hanro Liebenberg, who lost his footing and tapped after deciding to execute a quick penalty deep in the 22, Leinster could have been in even more trouble.
That upset Leicester and gave Leinster their first foray into the Tigers ’22, and it nearly resulted in a third try when Van der Flier blocked Potter’s kick and just when it looked like Jack Conan was about to score, chased Jasper Wiese ahead of his opponent.
From the resulting scrum, Richard Wigglesworth was penalized for knocking out Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne, who had just come on in place of a bloody sexton, fired over the kick to calm any late-night nerves.
23-7 lead, with 15 minutes to go Cullen looked for reinforcements on his bench and the front row of Healy, Sheehan and Michael Ala’alatoa had a tremendous moment by winning a scrum penalty to the head in their own 22.
That essentially ended Leicester’s hopes of reversing the deficit and although Nic Dolly came by for a late attempt at consolation which Ford converted, it was too little too late.
Marching into the last four, Leinster returns to the comforts of the Aviva Stadium. They will calculate their chances against Toulouse.
Goalscorers – Leicester: Ashton, Dolly each try Ford 2 cons. Lester: Van der Flier, Henshaw try each, Sexton 2 pins, 2 cons.
Leicester Tigers: F administrator; C Ashton (F Burns 66), M Moroni (N Nadolo 45), G Porter, H Potter; G Ford, B Youngs (R Wigglesworth 59); E Genge (Captain) (J Whitcombe 76), J Montoya (N Dolly 74), D Cole (J Heyes 59); O Chessum, C Green (H Wells 62); H. Liebenberg, T. Reffell (G. Martin 50), J. Wiese.
Lester: H Keenan; J O’Brien (T O’Brien 72), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (Captain) (R Byrne 62), J Gibson Park (L McGrath 71); A Porter (C Healy 62-76), R Kelleher (D Sheehan 48), T Furlong (M Ala’alatoa, 62); R Molony, J Ryan (J McCarthy 76); C. Doris, J. van der Flier, J. Conan (R. Ruddock 71).
Referee: M Raynal (France).
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/leinster-march-on-to-champions-cup-semi-final-with-victory-at-leicester-41625801.html Leinster march into the Champions Cup semi-finals with a win at Leicester