Leinster Rugby moved into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup thanks to a 56-20 victory over Connacht Rugby at Aviva Stadium.
James Lowe was front and centre for half of the eight tries and Robbie Henshaw grabbed a brace in a comprehensive performance, bringing the aggregate total to 82-41 over the two legs.
ANDY FRIEND AND JACK CARTY
It wasn’t all their own way, however, as Connacht got the start they were looking for when Cian Prendergast knifed into a ruck, forcing a penalty to allow Jack Carty to slot three points in the second minute.
Hugo Keenan’s mistimed challenge on Tiernan O’Halloran from Johnny Sexton’s ‘up and under’ put Connacht back on the attack from a penalty and clean lineout.
A clever kick had Keenan forced into giving away a lineout inside the 22 and Connacht came around the corner at a rate of knots to teeter on the brink of a breakthrough, Carty wide with his attempt from a penalty to double the lead in the seventh minute.
It didn’t seem to affect the out-half, tumbling a lovely kick deep inside the 22 where Jamison Gibson-Park’s clearance took play to halfway.
Out of almost nothing, Leinster manufactured a wonderful movement, spinning the ball right for Josh Murphy to shoot up the touchline, find Lowe on the inside for the final link in the chain to Gibson-Park for a mesmerising try, converted by Sexton for 7-3 in the 12th minute.
A monster Leinster scrum penalty and subsequent lineout take by Murphy was the launchpad for Henshaw to power out of Bundee Aki’s tackle for the second try, converted by Sexton for 14-3 in the 18th minute.
The hosts wouldn’t stop there.
A move from a lineout set up a one-two between van der Flier and Lowe, the flanker’s leg drive taking Leinster to within five metres for Tadhg Furlong to crash home, Sexton’s extras making it 21-3 in the 29th minute.
That deficit was compounded for Connacht when Aki was shown a yellow card for a hit on Sexton.
Immediately, the ball was transferred from a lineout for Sexton’s inside pass to put Lowe over for 28-3 at half-time.
Leinster were soon out of sight on the aggregate scoreline. Jimmy O’Brien intercepting, Rónan Kelleher sluicing through a gap, O’Brien stepping through traffic again and Henshaw taking the ball home for a fifth seven-pointer in the 42nd minute.
Connacht were patient enough to use the lineout and their big men to open the door for O’Halloran to trot through for 35-8 in the 46th minute.
Then, Jack Aungier was binned for a tackle on van der Flier. Connacht were reduced to 13 long enough for the home province to add insult to injury, Lowe pirouetting to his second try for Sexton to convert.
Connacht continued to embrace the challenge, Sammy Arnold grounding from close range.
Leinster came with conviction, Ross Byrne’s show-and-go creating the chance for Lowe to complete his hat-trick.
The entertainment kept coming, Abraham Papali’i powering through Lowe for Connacht’s third try and Carty’s first conversion.
The home province wanted the last word and Byrne’s nifty kick in behind was grounded by Lowe for his fourth try, converted by Byrne at the whistle.