Garry Ringrose and Jimmy O'Brien. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster hammer the Tigers to earn home Champions Cup semi

Garry Ringrose was superb in midfield as the seven-try hosts secured their last-four spot.

Leinster 55

Leicester 24

FACED WITH THE prospect of playing 10 minutes with only 14 players on the pitch, many teams simply look to survive. Leinster aren’t like many teams.

Their response to Caelan Doris being sin-binned for a high tackle was to push down on the accelerator and essentially finish off a game that was still in the balance when the Leinster back row was shown his yellow card.

Leo Cullen’s side scored 10 unanswered points, including a delightful try finished by scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, and even left themselves in prime position to score again in the play directly after Doris returned. This was an awesome demonstration of Leinster’s quality.

In front of a crowd of 27,000 at the reduced-capacity Aviva Stadium, Cullen’s men put a rather frustrating first half behind them to shred the Tigers in the second half as they secured a home semi-final back at the Dublin venue on the weekend of 28/29/30 April.

Leinster will host the winners of tomorrow’s quarter-final between Toulouse and the Sharks in France, meaning it could be a repeat of last season’s semi-final against the Top 14 giants. With the Heineken Champions Cup final already confirmed for the Aviva on 20 May, a home decider is now tantalisingly within reach for Leinster.

scott-penny-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-james-ryan-dan-sheehan-and-jason-jenkins Leinster scored seven tries in Dublin. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

On what was obviously a positive night for the Irish province, there were some concerning sights, none more so than the in-form back row Ryan Baird being forced off with a suspected shoulder injury and left wing James Lowe limping off in the second half.

We know all about Leinster’s depth and they managed those injuries with their usual level of comfort, but they’re still important players. 

Despite the big win, Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will also be able to pick out a few holes in the Leinster performance, but there was far too much good stuff for Leicester to live with after they had stayed in the fight before half time.

On his return from a head injury, Garry Ringrose was brilliant at outside centre. He thoroughly deserved his two tries and the player of the match award, while Scott Penny, Jimmy O’Brien, and John McKee also scored tries and the Leinster forwards earned a maul try.

With the injured Johnny Sexton watching on from the stands after his recent groin surgery, out-half Ross Byrne delivered another controlled showing and kicked beautifully for a 100% return from the tee, while scrum-half Gibson-Park was influential again.

garry-ringrose-breaks-free-to-score-his-sides-first-try Garry Ringrose scored his first try in the second minute. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster’s start was blistering. It took them just 72 seconds to open the scoring through Ringrose and it began with Byrne hanging up a lovely kick-off for Hugo Keenan to bat back on Leinster’s side, as they had done last weekend against Ulster. This one launched an irresistible passage of attack.

Byrne eventually swung the ball out the back of lock Ross Molony to Ringrose in midfield and he fluidly dummied a pass to beat Leicester centre Dan Kelly on his inside, darting through to dot down under the posts.

Byrne converted for 7-0 before Leicester responded almost in kind, with Freddie Steward winning back a hanging kick from out-half Handré Pollard and then a series of pressurising phases in the Leinster 22 yielding a penalty for Andrew Porter’s high tackle. The visitors opted to take the points through Pollard’s boot.

The sides exchanged scrum penalties in the next few minutes, with Leinster deciding to turn down the kickable three points and instead go into the left corner. They were left empty-handed as they lost control of the ball at the back of a ruck with the Tigers’ tryline in sight.

They had their second try a minute later, though, with a scrum on the right-hand side close to the Leicester 22-metre line serving as the ideal platform. Byrne swung the ball out the back of the decoy-running Robbie Henshaw to right wing O’Brien, who cut between the Leicester centres and sent Ringrose over untouched.

Byrne added the easy extras for 14-0 but any Leinster hopes of kicking on to finish the game as a contest by half time were in vain. They were culpable in turning the ball over too easily but Leicester deserved credit for their grit and defensive breakdown nous.

jonathan-sexton-watches-on Johnny Sexton watches on as he recovers from groin surgery. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen’s men did choose to kick their points with a 32nd-minute penalty when Tommy Reffell was pinged for not rolling away, but the Leicester openside was a growing influence on the game.

It was one of Reffell’s turnovers that led to Leicester having a chance late in the half as they kicked into Leinster territory and turned up the power with direct carrying off scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet. That earned them another penalty and veteran fullback Mike Brown quick-tapped to catch Leinster off guard. The hosts narrowed up on their tryline and van Poortvliet’s pass allowed England wing Anthony Watson to finish acrobatically in the right corner.

Pollard converted and the half-time scoreline of 17-10 was certainly pleasing from the visitors’ point of view after that tough opening quarter.

Wigglesworth’s side had a couple of big boosts early in the second half too, with the relentless Reffell earning his side another turnover metres out from the Leicester tryline after some sweeping Leinster attack. He jackaled and Tadhg Furlong was pinged for a neck roll.

Just after, Leinster saw Doris sent to the bin for a high tackle on Jasper Wiese. Cullen might have feared a red as he watched the replays but referee Nika Amashukeli felt it was yellow only and Doris headed off for 10 minutes.

anthony-watson-scores-a-try-despite-jamison-gibson-park Anthony Watson scored for Leicester just before half time. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster reacted well as the outstanding Ringrose won a breakdown turnover but the home forwards were turned over at the maul down in Leicester’s 22. 

The seven-man Leinster pack instantly responded at the ensuing scrum, generating impressive power to earn themselves a penalty that Byrne kicked for 20-10 with half an hour left.

And 14-man Leinster went one better just three minutes later as their phase-play attack delivered another classy score. This time, Byrne played out the back to Henshaw, whose beautiful delayed pass freed Ringrose on the linebreak and he passed back inside for scrum-half Gibson-Park to score. Byrne converted and Leinster were sitting pretty at 27-10.

They did have to deal with Lowe limping off, meaning a back three reshuffle as Ciarán Frawley came on at fullback, but Leinster kept the heat on Leicester even with their numerical disadvantage.

Just before Doris returned, out-half Byrne won a rare jackal turnover penalty, to his utter delight. Doris rejoined the fray, Byrne kicked into the left corner and the maul thundered forward. Tigers sub hooker Charlie Clare collapsed it, Amashukeli gave the penalty try, and Clare was binned. 

The floodgates had well and truly opened and replacement flanker Scott Penny was next over for Leinster as he burrowed his way through a maul to fend van Poortvliet into the ground and finish.

jimmy-obrien-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-harry-byrne-cian-healy-garry-ringrose-and-luke-mcgrath Jimmy O'Brien scored in the second half. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

While Leicester bagged a consolation try through back row Ollie Cracknell from close-range, the home side created a lovely sixth score as replacement centre Harry Byrne fired a slick inside pass to O’Brien from a lineout play to send him over.

Leicester’s lives were made more difficult by fullback Brown being sin-binned for a high tackle on Frawley but there was another Tigers score soon after when Ross Byrne’s offload found Harry Potter and he sprinted clear for the intercept score. 

Leinster finished over the top with another maul try dotted down by sub hooker John McKee. Byrne converted to bring his haul of points to 18.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose [2], Jamison Gibson-Park, Penalty try, Scott Penny, Jimmy O’Brien, John McKee

Conversions: Ross Byrne [6 from 6]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [2 from 2]

Leicester scorers:

Tries: Anthony Watson, Ollie Cracknell, Harry Potter

Conversions: Handré Pollard [2 from 2], Jimmy Gopperth [1 from 1]

Penalties: Handré Pollard [1 from 1] 

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Harry Byrne ’67), James Lowe (Ciarán Frawley ’55); Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’71); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ’63), Dan Sheehan (John McKee ’63), Tadhg Furlong (blood – Michael Ala’alatoa ’6 to ’11, permanent ’59); Ross Molony (Jason Jenkins ’59), James Ryan (captain); Ryan Baird (Scott Penny ’24), Caelan Doris (yellow card ’46), Jack Conan.

LEICESTER: Mike Brown (yellow card ’74); Anthony Watson, Harry Potter, Dan Kelly (Jimmy Gopperth ’75), Freddie Steward; Handré Pollard (Charlie Atkinson ’68), Jack van Poortvliet (Sam Wolstenholme ’74); James Cronin (Tom West ’52), Julian Montoya (captain) (Charlie Clare ’34), Joe Heyes (Dan Cole ’52); George Martin (Eli Snyman ’72), Cameron Henderson; Hanro Liebenberg, Tommy Reffell, Jasper Wiese (Olly Cracknell ’62).


Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)

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