It took Leinster two legs to assert their dominance, but once they got into gear, Connacht was powerless to stop them from marching into the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.
he was Leinster at his brilliant, ruthless best, as Leo Cullen’s men come into shape at just the right time.
They will now await the winners of tomorrow’s Leicester-Clermont clash, with a trip to Welford Road in sight unless the French can reverse a 19-point deficit in the first leg.
Despite a five-point lead, Leinster still had work to do on a glorious Good Friday night at the Aviva Stadium in front of 32,604 fans.
And they did so with ease as Connacht, who finished second best in the collisions, couldn’t live with Leinster’s pace and power.
The home side scored eight converted tries to Connacht’s three. James Lowe helped himself to four, Robbie Henshaw scored two, while Jamison Gibson-Park and Tadhg Furlong also came on to give Leinster a stunning 82-41 aggregate win.
Connacht will have many regrets and they paid the price for two stupid yellow cards, one of which cost them 14 points when Bundee Aki was booked for a dangerous tackle on his Ireland captain Johnny Sexton. It could also have been red.
To contribute to a good night’s work for Leinster, James Ryan was part of the warm-up as the influential suspension nears a return after his latest concussion.
The only downside was Jack Conan being substituted in the first half but he was replaced by Rhys Ruddock to ensure Leinster still had 12 Irish players on the pitch.
But for all the obvious international class on display, Leinster’s two uncapped second rowers, Ross Molony, and Connacht-bound Josh Murphy really caught the eye with a dominant display.
As in the first leg, Connacht started well and an early three-point lead could have been six had Jack Carty not missed a kickable shot on target.
Connacht could have been saddened that Hugo Keenan, who clumsily airlifted Tiernan O’Halloran, was only penalized with one penalty.
Shortly after, the westerners had even more reason to fret when Keenan’s skillful highball take provided Leinster with the platform for a counterattack from deep.
The ball was quickly moved wide where Henshaw freed Murphy before the lock found Lowe on his side and he in turn fed Gibson-Park in a stunning team effort. Sexton added the extras to put Leinster in a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Aki’s cover tackle stopped the flow, but it was just moments before Leinster came by for their second try when Henshaw ran through a poor attempted Aki tackle to score. Sexton back on target with the rebuild.
Connacht was really struggling and when Leinster upped the pressure at scrum time, the visitors collapsed.
A third concerted try followed after Josh van der Flier made up ground with a strong carry. Furlong pushed forward from close range, helped by a clever latch from Molony, and Sexton’s kick put Leinster 21-3 up after 28 minutes.
Connacht’s penalties mounted and her cause was not helped by an unnecessary yellow card from Aki for a dangerous tackle on Sexton.
Leinster cornered the resulting penalty and although the Maul was narrowly stopped, Henshaw connected with Sexton, whose beautifully timed pass brought Lowe into the break for a fourth converted try and a 28-3 lead.
Still just 14 players, Connacht had to watch the opening minutes of the second half but instead Leinster ran straight out of the top drawer in a fifth try and another.
Kelleher made the break and when Jimmy O’Brien was stopped just short of the line, Leinster stayed patient and moved the ball wide for Henshaw to zoom through an Aki-sized hole in the Connacht defense.
The damage was done, but as soon as Aki came out of the barrel, Connacht stopped by for a try as Carty sat Tiernan O’Halloran over.
Carty failed to convert and any small hopes Connacht had of a very unlikely comeback were quickly dashed when Jack showed Aungier a yellow card for a reckless clean-out against Van der Flier.
That pretty much sums up Connacht’s woes as their disciplinary issues seriously hurt Leinster, not for the first time this season. That left Connacht down to 13 men due to the same scrum quirk in the code of law that handicapped Italy here during the Six Nations.
Just like before, Leinster used his numerical advantage to the full as Garry Ringrose fired off a stunning pass at Lowe, who was slacked off by an inferior defense to get his second.
Sexton added the extras to maintain his 100 pc record from the tee in his final action before being swaddled within the hour mark. It was such an evening.
Connacht, who had returned to their full cast, got a second try from Sammy Arnold but Leinster came back again when Ross overcame Byrne Lowe for his hat-trick before the reserve half took the extra two points for a 49-13 lead 15 added minutes left to play.
Connacht refused to throw in the towel and Abraham Papali’i scored his side’s third try, which Carty converted, but it was cold consolation, especially when Lowe scored his fourth try late on, converted again by Byrne, as Leinster made a real statement about their European title ambitions.
Leinster – H Keenan; J O’Brien, G Ringrose (C Frawley 67), R Henshaw, J Lowe; J. Sexton (Captain) (R. Byrne, 56), J. Gibson-Park (L. McGrath, 63); A Porter (E Byrne 51), R Kelleher (D Sheehan 51), T Furlong (M Ala’alatoa 51); R Molony (D Toner 56), J Murphy; C. Doris, J. van der Flier, J. Conan (R. Ruddock 37).
Connacht – T O’Halloran (C Fitzgerald 60); J Porch, T Farrell (S Arnold 43), B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion 60); M Burke (D Buckley ht), D Heffernan (J Murphy 60), F Bealham (J Aungier 43); G. Thornbury (O. Dowling 43), L. Fifita; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (Burke 52-60) (A Papali’i 60)
ref – L Pearce (England)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/rampant-leinster-obliterate-connacht-to-book-place-in-quarter-finals-of-champions-cup-41557681.html Rampant Leinster obliterates Connacht and secures a spot in the Champions Cup Quarterfinals