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10th Apr 2021

Leinster remind Europe what they’re all about to reach Champions Cup semis

Patrick McCarry


“The old order has been re-established. The champions dethroned on their own turf.” So said BT Sport as Leinster reminded Europe what they were all about.

The four-time champions rebounded from conceding two early tries to ultimately outgun Exeter Chiefs and reach the Champions Cup semi finals.

The 2019/20 champions went 14-0 down to Lyon before putting them into a blitzer, last weekend, but they got their start all right at Sandy Park.

Their lightning start saw them bust through tackle after tackle and score twice through winger Tom O’Flaherty. 14-0 down and looking rattled, Leinster got their act together and climbed their way back into the tie.

Hugo Keenan went close to scoring before his superb offload set up James Lowe for Leinster’s first try. They then hit the front when Jordan Larmour got over in the corner after some slick play by Ross Byrne [on for a concussed Johnny Sexton].

Byrne added the conversion and, soon after, a penalty won by Rónan Kelleher to put Leinster 17-14 in front. Then arrived a huge talking point.

Jonny Hill shot out of the Chiefs line to plant a huge hit on Byrne. On commentary for BT Sport, former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton called it ‘a textbook tackle’ but the slow motion replays showed Hill’s arm connecting with the chin of the Leinster outhalf as he followed through with his tackle.

Referee Mathieu Raynal was instructed by his TMO to look at the replays as Brian O’Driscoll, also on commentary duties, stated, “In the age we’re living in, this could be either of the three.”

As it was, Raynal looked to be siding towards a red card before he declared Byrne had dropped before contact and that was all the mitigating factors he needed to see. It was just a penalty and Exeter were fortunate to go in for half-time 20-14 behind, but with a full complement of players.

The hosts were even happier with their lot, soon after the second half started, when the excellent Dave Ewers powered over from an attacking maul to make it a one-point game. Exeter then edged back ahead when Rory O’Loughlin was pinged for tackling his man from an offside position.

Back came Leinster, though, as Luke McGrath’s well-timed pass drew a tackle on Cian Healy, who had made a dummy run. Byrne stepped up to put his side 23-22 ahead.

A Ryan Baird lineout steal proved crucial, on 56 minutes, as Leinster took advantage of Exeter scrambling to turn attack into defence. Play spread wide and Larmour scored again in the corner.

Byrne missed his conversion but added a penalty, on 65 minutes, to make it 31-22.

From 67 minutes until 76 minutes, Exeter emptied the tank but Leinster’s defence was superb, with players such as Baird, Ed Byrne, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier all stepping up. Robbie Henshaw and Rory O’Loughlin were both brilliant too.

The dagger arrived with three minutes to go as Leinster’s sub-infused pack won a penalty that Byrne slotted over to seal a commendable and exhausting away win.

Our Man of the Match: Josh van der Flier (Leinster)

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