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Heineken Champions Cup: Leinster hold off Leicester fightback to reach semis

Robbie Henshaw’s converted try gave Leinster a 17-0 lead a quarter of the way through the game
Leicester Tigers (0) 14
Tries: Ashton, Dolly Cons: Ford 2
Leinster (20) 23
Tries: Van der Flier, Henshaw Cons: Sexton 2 Pens: Sexton 2, Byrne

Four-time European champions Leinster withstood a second-half fightback to beat Leicester Tigers and book their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals.

Leinster clinically blew the hosts away in the first half as Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw both scored.

Tigers hit back after the break and Chris Ashton crossed in the corner to give hope to the Welford Road faithful.

Nic Dolly added a second late on but it is Leinster who will face defending champions Toulouse in the last four.

Irish province edge battle of the league leaders

With the sun shining in the East Midlands and both sides top of their respective leagues, this contest was always going to pack a punch.

But this was Leicester’s first Champions Cup quarter-final in six years, against a Leinster team which included 10 of the 15 players who began Ireland’s Triple Crown-clinching win over Scotland in the final round of the Six Nations.

The hosts’ inexperience at this level told in the early stages as Johnny Sexton kicked a penalty before Van der Flier powered over from close range.

Leicester lacked ideas in attack and when Henshaw smashed his way over the line, it looked as if the game was already out of reach at 17-0.

A further Sexton penalty took it out to 20-0 at the break as the Tigers were nilled at half-time for the first time in three years.

But Leicester, backed by their vociferous support, emerged from the tunnel a different team and moved the ball wide with real intent, while their driving maul from the line-out began to cause the visitors problems.

And they duly opened their account when George Ford fed Ashton, fresh from becoming the Premiership’s all-time top try-scorer last week, and the former England wing raced over in the corner.

Rejuvenated by the try, the green shirts poured forward but Leinster were able to take the sting out of the game and Sexton’s replacement Ross Byrne nudged over another three points.

Dolly scored a second try late on from a driving maul for the hosts but Leicester bow out, while Toulouse now stand between Leinster and a shot at a fifth title in Marseille.

‘Leinster were clinical’ – what they said

Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick: “We are disappointed with the result and the way we didn’t take our chances in the first half.

“If you get into the opposition 22 you have to score. In the first half, we got there and they turned the ball over. When Leinster got into ours they scored – that led to a complete differential on the scoreboard. You get to 20-0 and there is along way to go.

“You have to attack the game from the very start but we felt our way into the game a little bit. When you do that against a team of their quality you are going to be points down on the scoreboard.

“In the same sense there will be a lot we can learn from and move forward with. For our young team, it was a first experience for many of them at this level. Only five had played a quarter-final before so there is plenty to learn from.

“Within their team there were 670 Ireland caps, as well as all of the games they have played together for Leinster. So as a unit, they are very good. They were clinical.”

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen: “They [Leicester] had some chances in our 22 but it was just the way we executed when we got into theirs which was pleasing. In the second half, they threw the kitchen sink at us, they won a couple of penalties from set-pieces and we made hard work with some of our exits.

“Credit to Leicester, they put us under a huge amount of pressure and we didn’t get that much territory. We did get out from a charge down and then had the scrum and got the penalty from that which kept our noses in front but it didn’t feel comfortable in the second half.

“We are delighted to get a win. Credit to the guys, our attitude was good. There were parts of our performance which can get better but we have got through to the next round.”

Line-ups

Leicester: Steward, Ashton, Moroni, Porter, Potter, Ford, B. Youngs, Genge, Montoya, Cole, Chessum, Green, Liebenberg, Reffell, Wiese.

Replacements: Burns for Ashton (65), Nadolo for Moroni (45), Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (58), Whitcombe for Genge (75), Dolly for Montoya (72), Heyes for Cole (58), Wells for Green (61), Martin for Reffell (48).

Leinster: Keenan, J. O’Brien, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe, Sexton, Gibson-Park, Porter, Kelleher, Furlong, Molony, Ryan, Doris, van der Flier, Conan.

Replacements: T. O’Brien for J. O’Brien (71), Byrne for Sexton (61), McGrath for Gibson-Park (70),Healy for Porter (61), Sheehan for Kelleher (46), Ala’alatoa for Furlong (61), Mccarthy for Ryan (75),Ruddock for Conan (70).

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