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Leinster Rugby (9) 17 - 10 (3) Leicester Tigers
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 9 April 2011, 18:00

In the build up to last Saturday's clash against Leicester in the Heineken Cup semi-final the press was divided. After all, Leinster and Leicester have quite the history in this competition. In 2005 the Tiger's came to Dublin to take on a Leinster team very much in form, having made a clean sweep of their Heineken Cup Pool. However, the Leicestershire men, under Martin Johnson, were on a similar March through Europe, and proved just too classy for the boys in blue on the day.

Fast forward to 2009 and Edinburgh. The Heineken Cup Final, the biggest prize in club rugby, was to see two foes square off once again. This time though, it was a different Leinster entering the fray, a more mature, structured Leinster who could easily wear the tag of favourites and take on the freshly crowned English champions, which they did. Heineken Cup number 1, secured.

Last Saturday was round 3, and under what circumstances to meet. Leicester were riding atop an incredibly competitive English premiership, having come back from the brink the week previous to impressively put away Harlequins at the Stoop. Leinster, despite a slow season start, were flying high, tipped as Heineken Cup favourites yet came off a one point loss to bitterest of rivals, Munster, the week previous in a game they really should have won. And all under the fantastic canopy that is the new Lansdowne Road, game on.

It was always going to be hugely physical as a contest and no one was let down in that regard. From the start every kick off, high ball and running move was met with huge tackles and hits from both sides. The question was though, who would get the better of them?

It was hard lines and a penalty fest in the first half, with Sexton taking more points from his opponents then Toby Flood, who had another shaky afternoon in Dublin. The better side though in the opening 40 were undoubtedly Leinster. Although not having the lions share of possession, the blue wave that held out the Tiger's attack was impressive and impenetrable. Going forward too Leinster looked the better team, set pieces and running lines made for pretty viewing but a few handling errors, notably from Luke Fitzgerald who was home and dry, left Leinster try-less despite countless line breaks and big run's, usually from the back's but notably too from Sean O'Brien [surprise, surprise] and Strauss.

Leicester are table leaders in England for a reason though and came at their hosts with a renewed vigour in the second half, plunging deep into Leinster territory, attempting to break the defence, and on 43 minutes it seemed their time had come. However, a certain behemoth from Tullow had something different to say about it, the TMO's replay showed Sean O'Brien had forced Alesana Tulangi into touch before the ball was grounded, Owen's said 'no try' and that was that.

And it is on such moment's that these games pivot, only six minutes later Isa Nacewa produced yet another monumental display of counter attacking that could make the mouth water. Nacewa ran past several players, leaving Scott Hamilton on the floor and reached out to neatly place his try. Individual play in rugby rarely comes more impressive.

The rest of the second half played out similarly to the first, constant skirmishes from either side with Leinster getting the spoils. Leicester seemed unable to make it past the Leinster line, who would instantly release and roll away, with such discipline it would make Declan Kidney blush, so as not to give Flood any chance of hope.

Slowly, as the game edged on between tackles it became clear that Leinster were perhaps simply better prepared on the day. Leicester's line out was exploited and excellently read by Cullen and Hine's who made Chuter's life hell on the day by acting with psychic like precision and threatening to dispossess Leicester at every possible chance. Up front, Messrs Ross, Strauss and Healey were monumental, not only in the scrum and at the break down, but also with ball in hand, carrying strong and causing the Leicester line to break repeatedly. Their defence too was the stuff of Greek myth.

The only saving grace came on 77 minutes when Hawkin's bailed over the white wash in what would be a late, consolation try for Leicester. But it was too little too late at that stage, despite Flood's conversion the game finished at 17-10.

Leinster should be happy with the result. The pack were incredibly physical and almost faultless for 80 minutes, the front three having a particularly good day at the office, bullying a team known for their scrummaging. Leicester may stick with Castrogiovanni next time. The back's too had a good day, running elusive, well structured patterns going forward, while remaining almost spartan in defence, if only for a few handling errors Leinster could have properly embarrassed the visitors.

The result leaves a date with Toulouse, another old rival, in just under three weeks time and back under Lansdowne's warm glow. If Leinster can bring the intensity they brought last Saturday then no one would be a fool for thinking a certain trip to Cardiff is only around the corner. But we still have a mountain to climb.

by Patrick Fennelly, © 2011-08-23

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