Leinster set up La Rochelle quarter-final after beating Leicester

Leinster’s Champions Cup title challenge gathered further pace with a 36-22 win over Leicester at the Aviva Stadium as they locked in a repeat of the last two finals against La Rochelle.

The French giants, who edged out the Stormers in Cape Town, will return to Dublin for next week’s heavyweight quarter-final, 11 months on from retaining their European crown in fairytale fashion.

Having last lifted the trophy in 2018, a fiercely-determined Leinster cancelled out Handre Pollard’s fourth-minute try as Jamison Gibson-Park’s running off the ball was rewarded with a first-half hat-trick.

Trailing 22-10 at half-time, Leicester capitalised on James Lowe’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock-on as former Munster prop James Cronin was on the end of a 45th-minute maul.

Robbie Henshaw’s intercept effort four minutes later effectively sealed the result while replacements Jack Conan and Charlie Clare exchanged late scores in front of an attendance of 40,775.

Leicester repeated their fast start from January’s fourth-round clash, with Cronin and Jasper Wiese combining on a midfield break.

Playing with a penalty advantage, Springbok Pollard was released by Dan Kelly’s neat offload to crash over and convert.

Player-of-the-match Gibson-Park soon took centre stage, though, as he was prominent in the lead-up to a Ross Byrne penalty and then picked up a brace of tries in an 11-minute spell.

The Ireland scrum half raced over in the 12th minute after Dan Sheehan had sprung Joe McCarthy in between two defenders. Byrne converted and then watched his half-back partner take a return pass from Sheehan to score on the left.

Ollie Hassell-Collins got a chance to stretch his legs, leading to a 28th-minute Pollard penalty, but Leicester’s leaky defence coughed up a third try in response.

Jamie Osborne’s sharp attacking line opened the visitors up and the supporting Gibson-Park broke Freddie Steward’s tackle and darted around Jack van Poortvliet to cruise in under the posts. Byrne’s extras put 12 points between the sides.

Tigers were far from finished as an early second-half scrum penalty – a strong aspect of their game – was followed by Lowe’s yellow card and Cronin was quickly driven over, with Pollard unfortunate to hit the near post with the conversion.

Dan McKellar’s side promised more, with Hanro Liebenberg forcing a turnover, but Kelly’s midfield pass was picked off by Henshaw for a sucker-punch score from halfway, converted by Byrne for a 29-15 scoreline.

Knocks picked up by fly-half Byrne and Cian Healy added to Leinster’s injury concerns but Conan, having missed out on an earlier try, did manage to finish off a smart break from Ryan Baird.

Clare had the final say, profiting from a mistimed lineout from the Irish province who know they cannot afford to repeat the same errors when the defending champions come to town.

Sourse: breakingnews.ie

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