By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Ireland’s chances of having two teams in the European Cup semifinals were scuppered when Leinster were comprehensively beaten by the holders, Leicester, at Welford Road last Sunday.
Following an impressive start, which saw them surge into a 10-0 lead, Leinster were demolished by four tries in quick succession as Leicester demonstrated they are currently the most powerful club side in Europe.
In fact, the margin could have been more if it weren’t for some heroic Leinster defense. Understrength as it was without the services of Ireland second row Malcolm O’Kelly, another international, Shane Horgan, went off injured early in the second half, and tactician Nathan Spooner played with an injured thigh.
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In retrospect, Leinster should have moved Brian O’Driscoll into the vital out-half position in place of Spooner, who clearly was far from match fit, but it still might not have made the required difference as some of Leicester’s attacking play was awesome.
“They played wonderful rugby,” Leinster coach Matt Williams said of the winners. “When we went 10-0 ahead, they had an avalanche of possession and you can’t give a team at this level that much pressure.”
Leinster’s quickfire start, which featured a breakaway try by Denis Hickie and a Spooner penalty, was soon made irrelevant as Leicester piled on the agony with 24 unanswered points to effectively seal the game. Despite improvement during the second half, it was obvious that Leicester could have upped the pace if necessary at any stage.