Leicester’s Heineken Champions Cup hopes ended by brilliant Leinster

Leicester Tigers never recovered from a devastating first half by Leinster as their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final ended in a 23-14 defeat at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

Tournament favourites Leinster fielded a starting XV containing 13 Ireland internationals and the gulf in class told as they powered 20-0 ahead by half-time, with scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park in mesmerising form.

It was the first time in three years Leicester had been kept scoreless by the time the interval arrived as the foundations were laid for the demise of their unbeaten home record this season.

A Tigers uprising followed with Chris Ashton finishing a beautifully taken try – his 41st in Europe – but their lung-busting effort was not matched by an ability to threaten the line as Leinster set up a semi-final against Toulouse next weekend.

It was the first significant bump in the road for Steve Borthwick’s Leicester revolution but the size of the defeat was as much a reflection of the challenges facing the Premiership as his team’s shortcomings.

One of only two quarter-finals involving English clubs restrained by reduced salary caps proved the difficulty they face competing against better resourced opponents from Ireland and France.

The gap is only going to widen further next season when the decreased budgets really begin to bite, but on this evidence it is already vast as the Premiership leaders were dismantled by their United Rugby Championship counterparts.

Leicester were left dejected following their defeat

Borthwick’s half-time words certainly galvanised his players and throughout Leicester played with determination and character, but far more was needed against the four-time European champions.

The Tigers’ fire was evident as they tore into the visitors when able to in the opening quarter, but Leinster were smarter and also displayed extra class in attack.

It was brute strength rather than ingenuity that delivered the opening two tries, however, with Josh van der Flier surging over from the back of a line-out before Robbie Henshaw added a second following a succession of drives.

Johnny Sexton landed both conversions to compliment his earlier penalty and when James Lowe motored down the left wing to renew the attack, it started to look bleak for Leicester.

Trailing 17-0, they were unable to get their hands on the ball and when George Ford was able to launch the backline, his snatched pass to Harry Potter was spilt forward by the wing.

Leinster overpowered their English opponents

The influence of scrum-half Gibson-Park was stamped all over Leinster’s play but the momentum of his pack was making life easy, even in the face of some feverish Tigers defence.

Sexton landed another three points and although the match began to sag beneath the weight of kicking, the first half at least finished with Ashton chasing down a half-chance that was headed off by Hugo Keenan.

Ashton struck six minutes after the interval when he was sent over by Ford as Leicester staged a fightback roared on by a near sell-out crowd whose hopes had been rekindled.

Nemani Nadolo was held up over the whitewash as the assault resumed but Leinster defended manfully and almost scored an opportunist try, only for Jasper Wiese to come to the rescue when Potter attempted an ill-advised kick.

Replacement fly-half Ross Byrne extended the lead to 23-7 and while replacement hooker Nic Dolly completed a maul try in the final minute, the result had long since been settled.

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