Four-time European champions Leinster ended Leicester Tigers’ Heineken Champions Cup run with a 23-14 victory in the quarter-final at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
In the first meeting of the teams since the same stage in 2011, Leinster got off to a lightning start to lead 17-0 on 20 minutes following tries by Ireland internationals Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw.
Johnny Sexton, who played in each of Leinster’s four Final victories between 2009 and ’18, booked-ended the two scores with two penalties for a 20-point lead at half-time.
Tigers, though, came out firing for the start of the second half, with Chris Ashton’s try opening the scoring as they dominated the early exchanges, and they remained in Leinster territory for the bulk of the 40 minutes.
The Irish province, who averaged more than 50 points a game in their three pool-stage wins before knocking out Connacht in the Round of 16, held out until replacement Nic Dolly supplied a second try for Tigers in the closing stages.
Leinster, therefore, progress to a semi-final against Toulouse, winners in a place-kick shoot-out in the day’s earlier quarter-final.
Their boss Leo Cullen, a former lock with both Leicester and Leinster, recalled Ireland captain Sexton and the bulk of his international names after they sat out league fixtures in South Africa over the last two weekends, while Tigers brought Ollie Chessum back into the starting line-up after suspension.
An enormous roar greeted Tigers as they emerged from the tunnel, with each tackle in the early stages supported by similar noise.
Chris Ashton intercepted to get the crowd excited again but the referee had signalled for a penalty 25 metres out and Sexton gave Leinster a 3-0 lead on three minutes.
Tigers enjoyed a good spell of territory in the following minutes, George Ford teasing the defence with two kicks – one high which James Lowe gathered safely and one long into the 22 to force the blue shirts back – and the first scrum brought a penalty award for the hosts but the defensive line stood up for multiple phases before ball was smothered on the floor.
James Lowe, the tournament’s top tryscorer, won the race to another Ford kick and this time played out from his 22, which spelled danger until Tommy Reffell stepped over a breakdown to wrap up man and ball.
A break by scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park sparked another Leinster attack and Freddie Steward had to bring down Lowe as he attacked in the corner. But when Leinster spilled ball, referee Mathieu Raynal came back for a penalty and this time it led to an opening try.
From the lineout, flanker Josh van der Flier broke far enough out of a tackle to dot down and Sexton’s conversion made it 10-0 on 16 minutes.
The home crowd were unhappy with a challenge on Ford as he cleared from midway inside his own half, but the whistle went the other way as Leinster reclaimed ball upfield and they stayed in possession through the forwards until centre Robbie Henshaw made the final push to the line fior their second score.
Sexton’s conversion made it 17-0 as they clock edged beyond 20 minutes.
When Leinster attacked again on their left, the tackle from Guy Porter on Jimmy O’Brien brought a penalty for the hosts.
A combination of Reffell and Harry Potter then forced Leinster into an error in their own half, but ball was just nudged forward and the Blues had a scrum to clear back upfield.
When Hanro Liebenberg then picked off lineout ball to get Tigers forward, Ford pushed a penalty into the left-hand corner, but James Ryan stole possession on his own five-metre line.
Steward claimed a high kick from Sexton but Tigers were penalised as Gibson-Park led the contest at the breakdown and Sexton stretched the lead to 20 points with the kick.
Leinster ran back again from the restart but, when they were given a lineout, Chessum scooped ball back to launch a counter-attack led by Steward down the right. Ashton chipped play down the line by Hugo Keenan got back to sweep up as the referee blew for half-time.
A big drive from the forwards got Tigers on the front foot as the second half kicked off but, after earning a penalty, the lineout throw was adjudged not straight and Leinster had scrum ball.
They were met by another big push, though, and could play only into touch on their 22-metre line.
Tigers then drove from lineout ball up to the tryline on the right and kept composure to attack again, until Ford fizzed a past to the left and Ashton ran into the corner. Ford’s conversion was perfect from the left touchline and the crowd responded as the fly-half cleared cleanly from the restart to push Leinster back again.
Aggressive work by tacklers forced Leinster into an error on their own 22, with George Martin making his first-team return from the bench as the scrum was rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts.
Ford went to the left corner and the whistle went again as Tigers built pressure, coming back for the penalty when replacement Nemani Nadolo was held up over the line.
Ryan stole lineout ball again, though play only got as far as the Irish 22 as Tigers kept up their attacking momentum, but at the other end, in Leinster’s first incursion to the attacking zone 9n the half, Wiese had to react quickly to win a race to the ball as it bounced over the tryline when Potter’s kick was charged down.
The Blues’ scrum was reset a couple of times on the five-metre line before No8 Jack Conan attacked off the back row, but a penalty followed and Ross Byrne, on as a replacement, made the kick to make it 23-7.
Lowe was caught by the Tigers as he hesitated after calling a mark, giving the home side a scrum just a few metres from the tryline. A penalty followed, with the clock showing 12 minutes remaining, but when the scrum was set again, with the ball at Wiese’s feet, the whistle went in the opposition’s favour.
Still play remained in the Leinster half, with a scrum penalty offering another shot and Tigers made the most of it, Dolly steering patiently at the lineout drive to score.
Ford added the conversion with the final points of the afternoon and of this season’s European campaign.
Leicester Tigers 14-23 Leinster Rugby. The Heineken Champions Cup runs ends in the quarter-finals in front of a loud 19,000 crowd at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Ford kicks the conversion to make it 14-23 on 78mins.
Nic Dolly scores at the back of a driving maul, 12-23 on 78mins
Ross Byrne, on as a blood replacement for Sexton, lands a penalty to give Leinster a 23-7 lead on 66mins.
Big escape as Potter's kick is blocked and Wiese wins the race to the ball as it inches over the Tigers tryline.
Tigers have not allowed Leinster out of their half of the field in this third quarter of the game but the visitors still lead 20-7.
Big spell for Tigers in attack here, Nadolo held up but another penalty to the home team.
Ford add the conversion, 7-20 on 47mins.
CHRIS ASHTON scores in the left corner after big drive from the forwards on the opposite side. 5-20 on 46mins.
Three big pushes from the forward pack at the start of the second half gets Tigers into good field position.
George Ford gets the second half started, Tigers trail by 20 points.
Leicester Tigers 0-20 Leinster Rugby at half-time with tries from van der Flier and Henshaw.
Penalty Sexton from 35 metres, gives Leinster a 20-0 lead on 38mins.
Tigers build in attack but then Leinster pick off a lineout throw in the corner. Still 17-0 to the visitors.
Sexton convert the try and Leinster lead 17-0.
Try for Robbie Henshaw extends Leinster lead to 15-0 on 21mins.
Sexton conversion of the try by van der Flier is a good one to give Leinster a 10-0 lead on 17min
Josh van der Flier reaches over to score for Leinster, 0-8 on 16mins.
Penalty by Johny Sexton, 3mins gone and Leinster lead 3-0.
KICK-OFF | Leicester Tigers v Leinster Rugby
Leinster's Johnny Sexton will kick off with Tigers in green and Leinster in blue. Tigers are playing left to right as we look from the dugouts, running towards the Mattioli Woods Stand end.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jimmy O'Brien, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Ross Molony, 5 James Ryan, 6 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Jack Conan.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala'alatoa, 19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Tommy O'Brien
HOW TIGERS LINE-UP
There are no changes to the line-up announced on Friday.
STARTING XV [with appearances]:
15 Freddie Steward , 14 Chris Ashton , 13 Matías Moroni , 12 Guy Porter , 11 Harry Potter , 10 George Ford , 9 Ben Youngs ; 1 Ellis Genge (c) , 2 Julián Montoya , 3 Dan Cole , 4 Ollie Chessum , 5 Calum Green , 6 Hanro Liebenberg (vc) , 7 Tommy Reffell , 8 Jasper Wiese 
REPLACEMENTS: 16 Nic Dolly , 17 James Whitcombe , 18 Joe Heyes , 19 Harry Wells , 20 George Martin , 21 Richard Wigglesworth , 22 reddie Burns , 23 Nemani Nadolo 
MATCH PREVIEW | Leicester Tigers v Leinster Rugby
Leicester Tigers meet Leinster for the first time since 2011 in the quarter-final of the Heineken Champions Cup at Mattioli Woods Welford Road this afternoon (5.30pm).
Four-time European champions Leinster are led by director of rugby Leo Cullen, who spent two seasons as a player with Tigers and was in the line-up the last time the Irishmen came to Leicester in 2007/08.
Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy, who played in their four Final victories between 2009 and 2018, are included in the matchday squad while Cullen recalls the international names after they sat out the URC fixtures in South Africa over the last two weekends.
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick makes one change to the starting line-up that registered a bonus-point league win over Bristol Bears as Ollie Chessum joins the forward pack after a suspension. Nic Dolly and George Martin are among the replacements.
George Ford, who starts alongside Ben Youngs at half-back, said: “Any team that gets this far in such a big competition deserves to be there and it’s an exciting challenge for us. We’re really looking forward to it against a brilliant side like Leinster.
“They have a quality squad and it’s not about trying to stop one man, we’re coming up against a brilliant team who are good in all areas of the field.”
If scores are level at the end of 80 minutes, extra time is played and there is also provision for a place-kicking competition to find the winner.
Referee is Mathieu Raynal who heads a French team of officials.
The winners will face Munster or Toulouse in the semi-finals next weekend.
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