Guinness Six Nations stars were in fine form in the Heineken European Champions Cup as Leinster squeezed past Leicester Tigers 23-14 to reach the semi-finals.
Triple Crown winners Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw both scored tries for Leinster, with plenty of Andy Farrell’s Ireland side on show.
10 of the 15 players who played in Ireland’s final 2022 Guinness Six Nations match against Scotland were on show at Welford Road as Leo Cullen’s side held off a Tigers fight back.
Tries from 2022 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship nominee Van der Flier and centre Henshaw put the visitors into a commanding lead, as stalwart Johnny Sexton added points from the tee.
“We are delighted to get a win,” said Leinster head coach Cullen.
“Credit to the guys, our attitude was good. There were parts of our performance which can get better but we have got through to the next round.
“Credit to Leicester, they put us under a huge amount of pressure and we didn’t get that much territory.
“We did get out from a charge down and then had the scrum and got the penalty from that which kept our noses in front but it didn’t feel comfortable in the second half.
“They threw the kitchen sink at us, they won a couple of penalties from set-pieces and we made hard work with some of our exits.”
Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, and Jamison Gibson-Park were all in action in the backs for the side from Ireland, while Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris, and Jack Conan – all part of Ireland’s impressive forwards – packed down for Leinster.
Tigers, currently top of the Gallagher Premiership, staged a comeback in the second-half with England’s George Ford feeding Chris Ashton for a try in the corner and Nic Dolly added another late on.
Leicester had plenty of Guinness Six Nations stars on show, too, with Freddie Steward, Ben Youngs, Ollie Chesssum, and Ellis Genge all in action for the hosts.
However, the outcome was ultimately the same as in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, with Ireland overcoming England to keep themselves in with a chance of silverware and head coach Steve Borthwick rued his side’s missed opportunities.
He said: “We are disappointed with the result and the way we didn’t take our chances in the first half. If you get into the opposition 22 you have to score. In the first half, we got there and they turned the ball over. When Leinster got into ours they scored – that led to a complete differential on the scoreboard. You get to 20-0 and there is a long way to go.
“You have to attack the game from the very start but we felt our way into the game a little bit. When you do that against a team of their quality you are going to be points down on the scoreboard.
“In the same sense there will be a lot we can learn from and move forward with. For our young team, it was a first experience for many of them at this level. Only five had played a quarter-final before so there is plenty to learn from.
“Within their team there were 670 Ireland caps, as well as all of the games they have played together for Leinster. So as a unit, they are very good.”