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Hello and welcome to our liveblog from Exeter’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster. Leo Cullen’s side face a tough task this evening against the defending European champions, not least because Leinster are missing some key players, including Garry Ringrose.

Still, having won a fourth consecutive Pro14 title just a fortnight ago, Leinster are well equipped to give the English and European champions a cracking game. You can follow all the action with us here over the next couple of hours. Let’s read your thoughts on how the game will go.

It has been a superb weekend’s rugby already in Europe – and you have to say, La Rochelle were really impressive earlier this afternoon when they saw off Sale. Can Leinster join them in the semi-finals? Let us know what you think.

“Is it a round too early, or two rounds too early?” asks Brian O’Driscoll. “This does look like the biggest fixture of the weekend.”

You can’t argue with the great man. 

Lawrence Dallaglio, the former England captain and World Cup winner, believes the winner of today’s game will win the competition. 

Here is our preview from earlier today.

Brian O’Driscoll reckons Hugo Keenan could be the key Leinster player today. “He picks his moments to strike. He has come from obscurity and has been a key man for Ireland as well as Leinster.”

Rob Baxter, Exeter director of rugby, has been speaking to BT Sport. He said: “This is as big as it gets. They have so much more experience than us.”

Leo Cullen added: “It is such a special competition for us and for the club. The last time we played a European quarter-final, it was a tough day out for us. We didn’t play a game last weekend. So this is an amazing challenge for our guys because Exeter lifted the crown last year. We were very jealous watching them do so.”

So teams are out on the pitch, Rob Baxter making two changes from their win last weekend over Lyon. Here are the sides.

Leinster

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy 
2. Rónan Kelleher
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Scott Fardy
5. Devin Toner
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. James Tracy 
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Ryan Baird 
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Ross Byrne
23. Dave Kearney

Exeter:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Olly Woodburn
13. Henry Slade
12. Ollie Devoto
11. Tom O’Flaherty
10. Joe Simmonds (captain)
9. Jack Maunder

1. Ben Moon
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
3. Tomas Francis
4. Jonny Gray
5. Jonny Hill
6. Dave Ewers
7. Jacques Vermeulen
8. Sam Simmonds

Replacements:

16. Jack Yeandle
17. Alec Hepburn
18. Harry Williams
19. Sam Skinner
20. Jannes Kirsten
21. Stu Townsend
22. Harvey Skinner
23. Ian Whitten

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [FFR]. 

We are under way.

THREE MINUTES TRY EXETER (Tom O’Flaherty)

Penalty to Exeter just outside their 22 – but their exit strategy was not made easy by Devin Toner who pressurised Jack Maunder when he attempted his box-kick clearance. Free kick leads to the first scrum of the game coming up. 

Leinster fail to defend and O’Flaherty cuts through a gap in the midfield. How did that happen? Desperate defending. 

Exeter 7-0 Leinster

Robbie Henshaw won’t thank James Lowe for that pass; as Leinster finally get their hands on the ball, the ball goes wide – great carry by Rhys Ruddock in the middle of that move – and then Lowe got it on the wing. His offload to Henshaw was too heavy, scrum awarded to Exeter.

8 minutes Exeter 12-0 Leinster TRY EXETER (O’FLAHERTY)

What a disastrous start for Leinster; they patiently build through the phases, Henry Slade creates the chance after 13 phases of play, O’Flaherty showed great ball retention to create the opportunity and then O’Flaherty picked a brilliant line to finish it off.

EXETER 14-0 LEINSTER

We have barely time to draw breath here. Leinster have not yet played 10 minutes and are 14 points down. Exeter are completely controlling possession, 82 per cent of it to be precise. This is as close to a crisis as you can get mid-game. Leinster need the next score.

And they nearly get it, Lowe doing brilliantly down the left wing, Johnny Sexton controlling things magically. Leinster have a scrum, five metres out.

Hugo Keenan held up over the line, after that break by Lowe. TMO checking to see if there was a grounding but decides not. Scrum, Leinster.

13 minutes Penalty to Leinster after that scrum. Leinster tap and go from five metres out, Kelleher with the first carry, Ruddock goes close, ref Raynal awards another penalty.

Leinster tap and go, again. Exeter win the decision this time, Hill credited for his bravery in defence. Exeter escape. 

14 minutes

Leinster controlling possession now; carries by Kelleher, Larmour and Henshaw, plus Ruddock, Furlong and Fardy, gets them entry into the 22. A stray pass from Luke McGrath sees them lose ground and then Jack Conan’s attempted pass goes into touch. This is not looking good, thus far, for Leo Cullen’s side. 

TRY LEINSTER (LOWE)

18 minutes EXETER 14-7 LEINSTER 

Superb score by James Lowe; much needed score from Lowe. They got great speed on their recycled ball there; Lowe carried to get them into the 22 initially; big Dev Toner had an important carry and then after another couple of phases, Sexton delivered a brilliant pass to Hugo Keenan, whose offload to Lowe was world class. Lowe crossed for the try; Sexton added the conversion.

Lowe has not 34 tries in 50 games for Leinster. That’s incredible scoring, no mater what you think about his defending.

james-lowe-comes-up-against-olly-woodburn Lowe en route to the tryline. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Rob Baxter speaking to BT Sport has said: “You always want to start well but the key is to not allow the reverse happen. We have made a few weak defensive slip-ups. On the whole we are in it, we are competitive. It is going to be a game of momentum shifts. We had it initially. Leinster have had it since. We need to get the momentum back.”

22 minutes

Penalty has been awarded to Exeter after the TMO has spotted a neckroll by Scott Fardy. Play now inside the Leinster half, just outside their 22.

25 minutes 

A couple of fine carries by Stuart Hogg leads Exeter into Leinster territory but Jack Conan wins a turnover and Keenan’s boot sends the ball deep into Exeter territory. 

27 minutes

There is no doubt Leinster have unsettled Exeter in the last 10 minutes or so. After that appalling start, they have started to find some rhythm. Their work at the breakdown is greatly improved on the opening 10 minutes and the pressure is beginning to pay off. Leinster have just won a penalty just inside the left touchline. Kickable distance if Sexton fancies it.

27 minutes

Sexton looks hurt, however. He is leaving the field, Ross Byrne coming on. Unclear what the injury is. This is a massive blow for Leinster.

Byrne kicks to the corner.

JORDAN LARMOUR

Looks like a try but TMO will check it out, unsure about the grounding.

29 MINUTES TRY LEINSTER (LARMOUR)

EXETER 14-12 LEINSTER, 

EXETER 14-14 LEINSTER, 30 minutes

Well, that was a magnificent try, a brilliant throw from Kelleher, Toner taking it, maul making yards, then off first phase, Ross Byrne times his pass perfectly, Keenan does even better than that, delaying his pass before Larmour finishes it off.

Ross Byrne then converts. Leinster, in a crisis, have come out of it magnificently.

 

31 minutes

Superb work from Ronan Kelleher to win a breakdown penalty. Leinster are completely on top at the moment. This is the classic match we hoped it would be. Byrne is going for the posts from distance.

32 MINUTES EXETER 14-17 LEINSTER (Byrne penalty)

That was a brilliant strike from Ross Byrne from 46 metres. Leinster have turned this around impressively.

34 minutes Another breakdown penalty for Leinster, Josh van der Flier winning it. Exeter are the team with problems now. Byrne kicks for territory.

35 minutes

A fine set-play sees Toner – inevitably – involved, Kelleher receiving possession back before he goes on a run; however he takes an extra roll and concedes a penalty just as Leinster have moved the play deep into the opposition’s 22.

37 minutes 

Another piece of brilliance from Josh van der Flier – Ireland’s most underrated player. He wins yet another penalty; Byrne finds a great touch inside the Exeter 22. 

39 minutes Ruddock gathers Kelleher’s throw, van der Flier and then Kelleher make some ground; things become untidy as the ball is five metres from the Exeter line; Chiefs then turn the ball over. 

Leinster regain possession outside the Exeter 22; Furlong, Keenan and Conan carry, Ross Byrne knocks on. Exeter survive.

Byrne is receiving treatment after a big hit from Jonny Hill. 

TMO now seeing if it was a legal tackle from Hill. There could be a Leinster penalty coming up. 

39 MINUTES 

After much discussion, Raynal has awarded a penalty to Exeter. The possibility of a red card for Hill was considered but the referee was satisfied that a penalty was sufficient punishment. 

HALF-TIME EXETER 14-20 LEINSTER

PENALTY (Byrne, 40 minutes)

Byrne picks himself up and slots over a penalty.

That was an absolutely incredible first-half, Exeter starting magnificently, running in two tries, running up a 14-0 lead.

At that point, you couldn’t have seen the game – never mind the half – turning as dramatically as it did. Yet Leinster are seasoned contenders at this level for good reason; their old-timer, Devin Toner, was brilliant; young gun Ronan Kelleher was too.

You have to credit James Lowe for overcoming his confidence issues to score a try; you have to credit Ross Byrne for stepping up as well as stepping in, after Johnny Sexton went off with an injury. Most of all, you have to mention Hugo Keenan’s name. He created both tries, the second for Jordan Larmour. Leinster are six points ahead. The second half promises to be great. Certainly the first half was.

So here is the first half in pictures.

Exeter got off to a flier, Tom O’Flaherty scoring their first try on three minutes.

tom-oflaherty-scores-a-try Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

He got a second one on nine minutes.

tom-oflaherty-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-stuart-hogg Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

James Lowe got Leinster back into it.

james-lowe-scores-a-try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Here is Johnny Sexton going off injured.

johnny-sexton-leaves-the-field-due-to-an-injury Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This is Leinster celebrating Jordan Larmour’s try.

jordan-larmour-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-james-lowe-and-luke-mcgrath Source: James Crombie/INPHO

SECOND HALF set to start

We are underway again.

42 minutes

Penalty to Exeter after yet another break by O’Flaherty; Joe Simmonds with the creativity; Exeter go to the corner rather than collect an easy three points.

TRY EXETER, 42 minutes

44 minutes – EXETER 19-20 LEINSTER (Ewers try, Simmonds misses conversion)

Dave Ewers gets the try; Leinster didn’t compete in the air but were still unable to stop their maul from marching forward. 

46 MINUTES 

Yet another break from Tom O’Flaherty; Leinster initially scramble well but then, after four further phases, give away a penalty for an offside. Momentum now with Exeter.

47 minutes PENALTY (Simmonds) Exeter 22-20 Leinster

Joe Simmonds – this is an incredible stat courtesy of Sam Warburton – has only kicked THREE penalties this season. They normally just go for the corner when they have a kickable penalty.

48 minutes – penalty to Leinster for a tackle off the ball on Luke McGrath.

Ryan Baird is about to come in to the game. Byrne aiming for goal.

50 MINUTES EXETER 22-23 LEINSTER (penalty Byrne)

What an impact Ross Byrne has made; he has just landed yet another kick. 

Ryan Baird comes in for Scott Fardy; Ed Byrne is in for Cian Healy. 

52 minutes

Leinster win a scrum; Rory O’Loughlin makes a fine break from inside their own 22; Henshaw also makes a good carry. Ball inside the Exeter half. Game on a knife edge.

53 minutes

Another scrum awarded for Leinster; another nice break from Luke McGrath. Leinster possibly should have been given a penalty there for a deliberate knock-on. TMO examining whether Leinster should be given more than a scrum after O’Flaherty knocked on. 

55 minutes

Good yardage gained by Leinster from that scrum; Lowe ends up in touch, good hands from Byrne, Henshaw, Keenan but Henry Slade gets across to push Lowe into touch.

57 minutes

TMO called into action, did Jordan Larmour ground the ball there?

Baird stole the line-out; Leinster carry close to the line, ball goes wide, Larmour finishes well. It looks good but will the TMO agree?

57 minutes TRY LEINSTER (Larmour)

TMO gives it. 

57 minutes Exeter 22-28 Leinster (Byrne misses conversion)

Poor enough kick from Ross Byrne after he made an earlier pass to Larmour that was absolutely superb. Try would not have come without the replacement out-half’s contribution.

59 minutes

Leinster win a penalty inside their own half – Josh van der Flier, having a great game, is the one who earns the credit for it.

60 minutes 

Exeter counter-ruck to win a penalty after Leinster’s maul makes great ground. Ronan Kelleher – who has thrown well, has played even better in the loose – was a little too ambitious and got isolated.

62 minutes

Scrum Leinster; forward pass from Simmonds. 

So 28-22 to Leinster; 18 minutes to go.

Who is going to win it? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

63 minutes

Scrum penalty goes Leinster’s way, it is not within range for Byrne. He kicks to touch, finds it outside the Exeter 22.

64 minutes

Penalty awarded to Leinster; this one within range for Byrne. TMO reviewing the tackle on Byrne. Jannes Kirsten is penalised but gets away with just a penalty. It could easily have been a yellow card. 

64 minutes PENALTY LEINSTER (Byrne)

Exeter 22-31 Leinster

From a tricky enough angle, Byrne slots it between the posts. Now a two-score game. 

68 minutes 

Penalty awarded to Exeter. They go to the corner.

70 minutes

Ewers carries three times; Simmonds twice; Jonny Hill makes some yards, Henry Slade has a go on three occasions; Leinster defend superbly before straying offside. The penalty is given to Exeter.

70 minutes 17 seconds

Remember the time. Exeter, charging for the line, cause an obstruction. They cough up a penalty as they chase seven points when three were on offer. Big, big moment for Leinster.

73 minutes

Exeter still in possession, still nine points down, still in the Leinster half, still trying, still running into a blue wall. 

74 minutes

Devoto sends a pass straight into touch. Great impact from Ryan Baird – not just at the line-out but also in the loose; Andrew Porter also makes a big contribution; Leinster remain organised throughout. Fine, fine defensive effort.

76 minutes

Leinster win a penalty at the breakdown. Harsh call but Leinster won’t care. Byrne kicks to touch, ball at the 22. They have this game won if they stay sensible.

77 minutes

Leinster try to run down the clock but end up giving away possession. The scrum is awarded to Exeter. Player of the match goes to Robbie Henshaw; Sam Warburton naming the Westmeath man as the game’s best player.

Meanwhile, Leinster have won a scrum penalty. You might as well say, they have also won this game. 

79 minutes Penalty Leinster (Byrne)

Exeter 22-34 Leinster

TRY LEINSTER (O’Loughlin)  

Exeter 22-39 Leinster

TRY RULED OUT

TMO checking it; O’Loughlin picks off a pass, allows it hit his feet, then collects it in his hands and races clear. Penalty awarded to Exeter after Porter was adjudged to have tackled a player without the ball.

FULL-TIME EXETER 22-34 LEINSTER

Full-time whistle has blown.

FULL-TIME EXETER 22-34 LEINSTER

They edged the scrum, the line-out, the penalty count and ultimately, Leinster were physically the better team. If you want one key reason why Leinster won this game, it comes down to their physicality in defence. 

Exeter have a reputation for controlling games; Leinster, after that horrific start, when they went 14-0 down after 10 minutes, could have folded.

Instead they showed mental resolve. Their big players delivered; and so did some of their unsung heroes; Rhys Ruddock particularly, but also Josh van der Flier and Ross Byrne.

The result leaves England without a representative in the semi-finals. Ireland have one, France three. Bigger days await but will they have a test as tricky as this one? It is doubtful. Leinster were magnificent in this win, nothing less. We didn’t think they had it in them after 10 minutes but they proved us wrong. A great win for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster. 

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About the author:

Garry Doyle

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