Ireland stars shine as Leinster continue European quest

James Lowe celebrates scoring a try with Josh van der Flier 12/3/2022
Ireland winger James Lowe scored four tries as Leinster eased past Connacht with a 56-20 victory on Friday as they continued their quest for European glory.

Ireland winger James Lowe scored four tries as Leinster eased past Connacht with a 56-20 victory on Friday as they continued their quest for European glory.

Four-time winners Leinster went into the game with a 26-21 advantage after the first leg in Galway, but initially fell behind at the Aviva Stadium after an early Jack Carty penalty.

The hosts responded with the opening try on 11 minutes, with quick hands allowing Robbie Henshaw to release Josh Murphy down the wing before Lowe sent fellow Ireland international Jamison Gibson-Park over the whitewash.

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Henshaw scored a try of his own eight minutes later, barging past Bundee Aki to dot down, before Tadhg Furlong got in on the act on 28 minutes after Josh Van der Flier and Lowe linked up.

Aki was then shown a yellow card before half-time and Leinster punished Connacht from the resulting play, with Lowe squeezing over to put the home side 28-3 up at the break.

Leinster continued to pile the pressure on after the interval, with Henshaw finishing his second of the game, before Connacht hit back on 46 minutes through Tiernan O’Halloran.

Lowe claimed his second after Connacht replacement Jack Aungier was sin-binned while Sam Arnold and Abraham Papali’i both crossed for the visitors after they were restored to 15 men.

But two more tries from Lowe either side of the score from Papali’i ensured Leinster cruised into the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals in style with an aggregate score of 82-41.

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They will be joined in the last eight by Sale Sharks, who survived a second-half fightback from Bristol Bears to progress despite losing Arron Reed to a red car in the 33rd minute.

Sale lost the first leg 10-9 at the AJ Bell but raced into a 24-3 lead at Ashton Gate as tries from Lood de Jager, Akker van der Merwe and Tom Roebuck all touched down – with England star Manu Tuilagi producing a moment of magic to set up the latter.

Two of those tries came after Reed was sent off in the 33rd minute and it was only after Sharks were reduced to 13 men following a yellow for Nick Schonert, that Bristol closed the gap.

Harry Thacker, Luke Morahan and Joe Joyce all crossed to give the Bears hope before Rob du Preez’s boot and a Jono Ross score edged the Sharks to victory despite a late Morahan effort.

Meanwhile, England prospect Alfie Barbeary scored a hat-trick as Wasps defeated French outfit Biarritz 39-29 to reach the quarter-finals of the EPCR Challenge Cup.

Barbeary crossed twice in the first half in addition to tries from Jacob Umage and Dan Robson as Wasps opened up a 29-8 lead at the break in Europe’s second-tier competition.

Tries from Mathieu Hirigoyen, Steffon Armitage and Bastien Soury saw Biarritz close the gap to just four points, only for Barbeary’s third to put the result beyond doubt.

London Irish are also through to the last eight after seeing off Castres 64-27.

Agustin Creevy scored twice in the first half, along with tries from Curtin Rona, Tom Pearson, Juan Martin Gonzalez and Kyle Rowe, as the Gallagher Premiership side stormed into a 40-3 lead at the interval.

Rory Kockott, Theo Chabouni and Santiago Arata crossed after the restart to reduce the deficit to 40-27, but a further four tries saw Irish sail through to the quarter-finals.