Leicester Tigers earned a place in the last eight of the European Challenge Cup with a 48-32 victory over first-time visitors Connacht Rugby at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday evening.
Despite falling behind early on, Tigers seven of the game’s 11 tries to make it into the quarter-final where they meet Newcastle Falcons next weekend.
Connacht provided the opening score after just seven minutes, but Tigers responded with four first-half tries, including a first for the club by Guy Porter, Matias Moroni and Zack Henry, playing at full-back with Johnny McPhillips starting in the 10 shirt.
It took some big defensive sets at the close of the half to keep out enterprising visitors before a penalty on 40 minutes made it 24-11 at the break.
Chasing a quarter-final place in Europe for a 15th time, Tigers had their lead cut to six points in the opening stages of the second half and it was down to two points before Clare added his second try of the evening.
But Connacht, who had begun the season in the Heineken Champions Cup and have enjoyed strong form on the road this season, scored again through skipper Paul Boyle in the closing 10 minutes to set up an intriguing finale.
Harry Wells and then Jasper Wiese added late scores to settle the outcome.
As the sunshine set on an Easter Saturday evening, Tigers got the game started, kicking towards the Robin Hood Stand End, but kicked straight to touch on the right, bringing play back to a scrum on the centrespot.
The visitors, in all black, immediately showed their ambition with a swift attack off fly-half jack Carty before Tigers forced an error and Tomas Lavinini picked up possession and Zack Henry cleverly took play back into the opposition half.
When Connacht then kicked out on the full from outside their 22, they faced a Tigers scrum but won the penalty as the front rows hit the floor.
Luke Wallace stopped a charge from opposing No8 Paul Boyle but a kick into the corner had the hosts back on their own line, until Jasper Wiese’s carry out allowed Johnny McPhillips to clear.
But Connacht quickly returned with interest and scrum-half Kieran Marmion supported the break on the left to run in and score. Jack Carty was off target with the conversion.
Tigers got forward from the restart, with Charlie Clare and then George Martin making territory and then a lineout in the corner providing the chance for hooker to Clare to score for a second successive game. Henry pushed the kick wide with the scores level at 5-5 on 12 minutes.
A second try followed just a few minutes later, with Matias Moroni and Matt Scott working hard in hitting Connacht ball-carriers and Porter stepping in to claim ball on the floor and run clear to claim his first try for the club. Henry added the conversion from the left touchline to make it 12-5.
Connacht gained a second scrum penalty on halfway which Carty punted down the right touchline. Cameron Henderson, though, read the jump well and got up in front of his opposite number and force the error.
Boyle threatened to run clear as he picked up ball from the back of a ruck on halfway before Henry stepped in to make a tackle, but the whistle followed as Connacht recycled and Carty made it 12-8 with the three-pointer from the tee.
A clever kick over his shoulder from Ben Youngs pushed Connacht into the corner but they had the benefit of a penalty following the lineout and cleared up to halfway.
After Clare was yellow-carded for a late tackle, Connacht had field position in the left-hand corner, but met resistance from 14-man Tigers and, when they spilled ball, Porter picked up and broke clear.
With Moroni on his right, he passed for the Argentina international to dive in for his first score for the club, making it 17-8 on the half-hour.
McPhillips then put Connacht under pressure with a towering kick and, as Harry Potter quickly offloaded, Henry stepped to the line for the fourth try and added the extras for a 24-8 lead.
Porter almost found he space to create another one but his switch inside couldn’t find Moroni in support, and McPhillips had to make a tackle at full stretch to stop Connacht as they tried to broke clear.
Clare returned to the field as Tigers defended a penalty into the corner. Scrum-half Kieran Marmion was caught just short of the line and then Youngs caught Alex Wootton as he tried to wriggle away on the touchline.
Tigers twice met lineout drives with determined defence and then some force in the middle of the pitch. The visitors went for the scrum option at another penalty with the clock on 40 minutes but still could break through. But when the whistle again, referee Adam Jones spoke to skipper Youngs before Carty kicked to make it 24-11 at half-time.
The second period began with both sides kicking for territory and Tigers standing up to Connacht’s ball in hand until giving away a penalty for offside near halfway and, after a gap opened in midfield, Eoghan Masterson picked up to score and the conversion from Carty cut the gap to 24-18.
Will Hurd made his debut as replacement for Joe Heyes in the front row and Harry Wells was added to the second row as Lavanini made way.
Wells quickly got into the game with a lineout steal which gave Youngs ball to push Connacht back towards their own tryline and take the sting out of their phases of play.
With Henry replaced at full-back by Freddie Steward, McPhillips took over a place-kicker and duly put Tigers more than a score in front again with a penalty.
But Connacht wing Wootton quickly added the visitors’ third score of the evening from a clever pass by scrum-half Coalin Blade, and the conversion from Carty pulled the score back to 27-25 at the 60-minute mark.
Carty missed a penalty just moments later and a chance to go in front for the first time.
Tigers looked to make the most of the escape with a break from Youngs and Moroni taking play up to the tryline. After a couple of surges for the line, the referee adjudged that Henderson had been held up and play restarted with a penalty.
Play stayed in the corner and, after a second penalty, Clare took control as the forwards drove for the line and scored his second of the evening. McPhillips added a vital conversion at 34-25 with less than quarter of an hour to play.
No8 Boyle then hauled Connacht back into the game with a charge in for a try to trim that advantage again, but the response was immediate with Wells burrowing his way over at the other end. McPhillips added the kick to make it 41-32 on 75 minutes.
McPhillips then made a 50-metre break through broken field but was held up by desperate defence over the line.
Nic Dolly emerged for his debut at the five-metre scrum and immediately saw Wiese break off the base to charge over for the seventh try of the evening. The kick from McPhillips put Tigers 16 points in front and on the way to a quarter-final.
FULL-TIME | TIGERS 48-32 CONNACHT
Tigers into the quarter finals of the European Challenge Cup beating Connacht 48-32. A try-fest at Mattioli Woods Welford Road!
YELLOW FOR CONNACHT
It's a yellow card for John Porch for a high tackle on Freddie Steward.
CONVERSION FOR MCPHILLIPS
Two more points for Tigers kicked by Johnny McPhillips as Tigers lead 49 points to 32 in the closing moments.
WIESE GETS IN ON THE ACTION
Jasper Wiese drives forward from the base and forces his way over for another Leicester Tigers try,
Nic Dolly makes his Tigers debut coming on for Charlie Clare.
SCRAPPY TIGERS HOLDING STRONG
The Leicester line holding their own as Connacht again try to bash down the defensive line.
We have the line-out as Charlie Clare finds Henderson, Ben White digs out the ball, and releases Johnny McPhillips who bursts through the line, dancing left and right, and is able to force over the line, but it looks like he's not grounded the ball.
McPhillips again kicks from the tee as the momentum goes in Tigers favour.
Harry Wells is the man who had hands on as he gets the try for Tigers in the closing five minutes.
TIGERS POWER FORWARD
Wiese, Clare and Hurd all with the run at the line, following some brilliant work at the breakdown from George Martin.
The pick-and-go works for Tigers and it's James Whitcombe who has hands on.
The conversion is kicked by Jack Carty and the game has just two points in it once again.
TRY FOR CONNACHT (C)
Paul Boyle finds a gap and wheels through for a try as the visitors aren't finished yet.
TIGERS BALL IN HAND
Tigers managing the pace of the game with the ball in hand going through the phases. A long kick from the Connacht backline turns the Tigers line, but Steward collects and it's into touch.
Connacht still with the ball from the line-out, as they line up the runners. And Paul Boyle breaks the gain line and its another run at the line...
Ben Youngs is replaced by Ben White at scrum-half for Tigers.
MCPHILLIPS WITH THE KICK FROM THE TEE
Johnny McPhillips kicks the points from a tight angle and extends Tigers lead further. Tigers 34-25 Connacht.
TIGERS LINE-OUT TRY
It's another line-out try and it's Charlie Clare on the end of yet another line-out. It's a set-piece special and Tigers up to 32 points for the evening.
TIGERS SHORT OF THE LINE
Tigers with a huge break away, Ben Youngs finds Moroni who unleashes Potter on the wing. Held up as Tigers fall just shy of the line, but it appears to be over the line for a try...referee Adam Jones, will utilise the TMO, but it's not awarded. T
CARTY KICKS FOR POSTS...AND MISSES
Jack Carty kicks confidently to try and give Connacht the lead for the first time in the game since the fixture's opening try.
But he pulls it wide and Tigers still with the lead.
Tommy Reffell replaces Luke Wallace in the back-row.
CARTY KICKS CONVERSION
Jack Carty kicks from just in front of the post with just two points between the sides as we head into the final quarter.
TRY GIVEN FROM TMO
Connacht are awarded the try following a review from the TMO, and the score narrowed to 27-23.
CONNACHT COME AT TIGERS
Powerful carrying from the Irish Province with Masterson and Boyle, as Tigers defence is called upon again.
Daly has a run, and Alex Wooten finds the gap following the reverse pass from Marmion. It's over the line, but we'll go upstairs to watch for the double movement...
MCPHILLIPS PENALTY KICK
George Martin making waves forward as he gains the territory on the ground. Youngs attempts a nudge over the top, and almost pops up, but it rolls out of play.
We'll go back for the penalty, and McPhillips kicks the points.
Freddie Steward comes on at full-back for Zack Henry.
TIGERS SOLID SCRUMMAGE
Scrum for the knock-on as Ben Youngs feeds in, first scrum penalty of the night goes to Leicester and Henry finds touch.
Connacht steal the line-out and can sigh a breath of relief.
Wiese finds Youngs, who feeds Potter from the scrum and it's instant pressure from the Tigers. It's just in touch, Connacht work the line-out but Carty mis-placeses the pass through the phase.
Penalty awarded to Connacht for diving at the ruck. Touch found. Shane Delahunt with the line-out and Wells almost steals. Pressure put back on the visitors as they call the mark and kick clear.
TIGERS WITHSTAND PRESSURE
Tigers win the penalty from the scrum, as Conor Oliver gives away the penalty at the breakdown. Tigers kick clear, and a line-out for Clare. George Martin collects and the kick-tennis continues,
Connacht come away, and work it to the Tigers right, but it's knocked on and we'll have the scrum on the half-way line.
Harry Wells comes on for Tomas Lavanini and it's a Tigers debut for Will Hurd on for Joe Heyes.
CONNACHT COMING FORWARD
Connacht's backs seeing a lot of the ball from the restart. Jasper Wiese hits low and hard, leading the way for the Tigers defence, Harry Potter clears up the nudge, and Ben Youngs is able to set a box-kick to bring down the pace.
Ball still with Connacht and they find touch from the boot of Carty to the Tigers right flank.
CONNACT KICK EXTRAS
Carty kicks over the points as the gap closes in the early moments of the first half.
Connacht with the line-out and Tom Daly carries from the phase, and Eoghan Masterson finds a gapping hole in the Tigers defence to drag over the ball for an early Connacht try in the second half.
WE'RE BACK WITH THE SECOND HALF
Connacht get the game back underway and Tomas Lavanini collects from the restart. Porter with the kick-chase, but we'll have the Connacht line-out.
The ball moves across the pitch, the Tigers defence inching forward. The kick if forced and Henry kicks clear George Martin steps in to take the challenge. An aerial exchange but Connacht don't make any ground.
HALF-TIME | TIGERS 24-11 CONNACHT
A superb half of rugby by Leicester running in four tries in the first half from Clare, Porter, Moroni and Henry.
CONNACHT PENALTY KICK
Jack Carty kicks the final points of the half from just under the posts.
SCRUM AT THE DEATH
Connacht call the scrum at the end of the first half, as they look to get some reward from some extended pressure. We'll reset, But Paul Boyle picks up, but Tigers strong in the collision.
Tigers force Connacht back, and there's no way for the Irish Province, Ben Youngs almost with the turnover. Masterson has a drive, O'Brien joins in, but Ben Youngs comes in at the side.
CARTY KICKS TOUCH FOR 10 METRES OUT
Connacht with the line-out. The maul has a go, but Tigers stop the attack dead in its tracks. The Tigers defence stretched but making hit after hit.
Tomas Lavanini is impeding giving away the penalty, so we'll reset the Connacht line-out. The Tigers maul holds firm once again, but the ball still in Galway hands,
Lavanini fronting up, as the pressure builds, and Clare is penalised for hands in the ruck,
TIGERS NON-STOP FROM RESTART
Guy Porter is once again the man to break the line, as Tigers pressure from the restart forces the steal. His offload just falls short for Walalce however as the break filters out.
Connacht with some possession, but the Tigers heavies standing their ground, Tigers hunting the tackles, but finally win the penalty as Jasper Wiese doesn;t roll away.
HENRY ADDS TO TRY
Henry makes it a try and conversion combo as Tigers extend the lead to 24-8 as we head into the final five minutes of the half.
TRY FOR HENRY
Leicester Tigers four tries already as Zack Henry dances through the Connacht defence to score his first Tigers try.
METRES MADE BY TIGERS
Tigers pressure forces the mistake from Carty as they gain the terriorty following the kick-chase.
Tigers down a man, but up on the scoreboard as McPhillips sends the ball into the air. Moroni chases and it falls to Potter, who offloads to Henry who dances towards the tryline...
MORONI OVER FOR TIGERS
Matias Moroni is the man on the end of Guy Porter's break and dives over the line for Tigers third try of the match. Another first try for the club scored this evening for the Puma.
Henry misses the conversion with the scores at 17-8
CONNACHT FIELD POSITION
The first jumper receives the line-out and the maul rumbles forward. Tigers stem the attack, but Marmion tries to get things moving from the base. It's knocked on and Guy Porter with a full-pitch break...
CLARE SHOWN YELLOW
Charlie Clare will spend 10 minutes in the bin following a no-arms off the ball tackle. A chance for Connacht to punish Tigers. Carty nudges to the corner.
Lavanini penalised for a penlaty and Carty finds touch. The line-out is successful and the maul is formed for Connacht. They work the ball through the phases right to left, and Charlie Clare could be in trouble for a no-arms tackle.
YOUNGS NUDGE TO THE CORNER
Ben Youngs kicks a fine ball over the top of the Connacht defence and it rolls to corner. Connacht with the long throw over the jumpers, but George Martin is spotted offside and so Carty finds touch.
PENALTY KICK FOR CONNACHT
Jack Carty thumps the ball through to narrow the score to four points.
Tigers have it from the restart and Henry kicks clear, George Martin closes down Peter Sullivan and Connacht still have the ball.
Paul Boyle breaks the line down the centre of the pitch, and it looks as if he's touchline-bound. But Zack Henry covers well, but Luke Wallace is penalised for a high tackle.
HIA FOR CONNACHT
John Porch will leave the pitch for a HIA following a collision with the Tigers 6 George Martin. Connacht have the scrum and win as Tigers go to ground.
Carty kicks to touch. The line-out is stolen by by Tigers, but was knocked on. Connacht scrum.
HENRY KICKS EXTRAS
Zack Henry on the scoresheet for Tigers with a fine kick from the left touchline. Tigers lead 12 points to 5.
PORTER TRY FROM RESTART
Guy Porter with a brilliant finish! The restart sees a bit of kick tennis, before Tigers gain advantage with Wiese and Scott freeing Porter to gallop in for a first try for the club.
TRY FOR TIGERS
Charlie Clare gets over off the back of his own line-out and it's a familiar story for Tigers with another line-out maul try. Scores level.
Henry misses the conversion with the scores at 5-5 after the first 10 minutes,
TIGERS KICK TO CORNER
Tigers set the line-out and Clare throws in, as the script writes itself with the set-piece.
Well executed and the momentum is with Tigers...
Jack Carty misses the conversion as the scores remain 0-5. Henry restarts Tigers and Guy Porter again in the thick of things,
An exchange of kicks, and Henry chases his own kick. Matt Scott finds space out wide and Tigers edge towards the 22. Luke Wallace collects out wide, and Tigers reset.
Wiese first reciever, and George Martin attempts. The play moves to the left and is eventually lost as we go back for the earlier penalty for Leicester,
FIRST TRY FOR CONNACHT
Th Connacht number 9 goes over in the left corner for the visitors, as Tigers find themselves caught a man short. First blood to Connacht.
SCRUM FIVE METRES OUT
We'll have the scrum following a misjudged line-out from Charlie Clare.
Jasper Wiese carries from the base and Guy Porter kicks clear.
Sean O'Brien finds space on the Tigers right, and he feeds Kieran Marmion who has a run at the line.
TIGERS DEFENCE CALLED UPON
The second scrum of the game goes in Irish favour, Jack Carty finds touch on the Tigers left flank, David Heffernan with the line-out, and the ball goes right then left.
Ball still with Connacht and a chip in behind rolls out for Tigers to set themselves on their own five metre.
EXCHANGE OF POSSESSION
Guy Porter comes away with the ball following the Connacht kick from the line-out. The ball sprayed wide from the boot of Tom Daly, but we'll go back for the knock on.
Henry kicks the ball out on the full from the kick-off, and we'll have the game's first scrum.
Connacht come away with the ball from the base and the centres get the ball in hand. Some early defending for Tigers.
And Lavanini comes away with the turnover and Tigers go through the phases before Henry finds touch on the left flank.
KICK-OFF | TIGERS V CONNACHT
It’s Zack Henry to gets things underway this evening with Tigers playing from left to right from our position here in the main stand.
WARM-UP DONE | TIGERS HEAD IN
It's a cold night here in Leicester with little wind as the Tigers boys make their way into the changing room, with 10 minutes until we kick-off.
The floodlights are on and the pitch is set for a Champions Cup clash with Connacht.
Connacht Rugby: 15 John Porch, 14 Alex Wootton, 13 Sean O'Brien, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion; 1 Denis Buckley, 2 David Heffernan, 3 Finlay Bealham, 4 Ultan Dillane, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Conor Oliver, 8 Paul Boyle (c).
Reps: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Oisin Dowling, 20 Abraham Papali'I, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Peter Sullivan
LEICESTER TIGERS TEAM NEWS
[Club appearances in brackets]
15 Zack Henry 
14 Harry Potter 
13 Matías Moroni 
12 Matt Scott 
11 Guy Porter 
10 Johnny McPhillips 
9 Ben Youngs (c) 
1 Luan de Bruin 
2 Charlie Clare 
3 Joe Heyes 
4 Cameron Henderson 
5 Tomás Lavanini 
6 George Martin 
7 Luke Wallace 
8 Jasper Wiese 
16 Nic Dolly *
17 James Whitcombe 
18 Will Hurd *
19 Harry Wells 
20 Tommy Reffell 
21 Ben White 
22 Dan Kelly 
23 Freddie Steward 
Connacht make a first-ever trip to Mattioli Woods Welford Road and face Tigers for the first time in a competitive fixture.
Connacht began the season in the Heineken Champions Cup but are the Challenge Cup’s most experienced campaigners as this is their 127th match in the competition.
As this is a knockout game, with the quarter-finals scheduled for next weekend, there will be extra-time played in the event of scores being equal at full-time.
A penalty kick competition would be used to find a winner of the teams could not be separated after extra time.
Read our full match preview by clicking here.
CHALLENGE CUP ROUND OF 16 | 8.00PM KO
It's European Challenge Cup night and Tigers host tonight’s visitors from Galway Connacht Rugby for a place in the tournament’s quarter-final.
We’ll be bringing you all the action as it happens here at Mattioli Woods Welford Road with Matchday Live on the official Leicester Tigers app.