PA Sport Staff
Leinster blew Connacht away with a 56-20 win at the Aviva Stadium – winning 82-41 on aggregate – to set up a likely Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final trip to Leicester Tigers.
James Lowe helped himself to four tries and Robbie Henshaw bagged a brace, leaving Leo Cullen’s men to await the winners of the Leicester-Clermont Auvergne tie.
Jamison Gibson-Park, who had his citing for a high tackle from the first leg dismissed, started the try-scoring as Leinster ruthlessly opened up a 28-3 half-time lead.
Connacht captain Jack Carty’s early penalty was cancelled out by converted scores from Gibson-Park, Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Lowe, the latter one coming after Bundee Aki’s sin-binning.
The blue hordes in a 32,604-strong crowd had a Good Friday to remember, with Henshaw and Lowe, the Heineken star-of-the-match, crisply adding to their tallies.
Despite a Jack Aungier yellow card, a gallant Connacht salvaged some pride with second-half tries from Tiernan O’Halloran, Sam Arnold and Abraham Papali’i.
The visitors immediately ate into their five-point deficit from last week’s game. Cian Prendergast was quickest to the breakdown and Carty knocked over the penalty.
The Connacht fly-half frustratingly pulled a penalty wide soon after, and Leinster duly thundered clear in the 10th minute.
Henshaw and Josh Murphy led a slick surge down the right wing, linking inside with Lowe who fed Gibson-Park to go over untouched. Captain Jonathan Sexton converted from the right.
Henshaw shrugged off his Ireland team-mate Aki to crash over in the 17th minute, and tighthead Furlong drove over 10 minutes later to make it three converted tries.
Aki’s subsequent yellow card for a high tackle on Sexton was also punished in clinical fashion. Sexton’s lovely inside pass sent Lowe powering over for a late seven-pointer before the interval.
The floodgates were well and truly open, with Jimmy O’Brien prowling and Henshaw crossing just 59 seconds after the restart. Sexton’s right boot made it 35-3.
O’Halloran replied for Connacht, released by Carty’s delayed pass, but Aungier’s yellow for a shoulder charge on Josh Van Der Flier prompted uncontested scrums.
The westerners, with a groggy Finlay Bealham already replaced, had to toil away with 13 men for the next few minutes.
Sexton’s short pass unleashed Garry Ringrose from halfway and he spun the ball wide for Lowe to beat two defenders and double his contribution.
Sexton departed with a dozen points following his sixth successful conversion, but Connacht replacement Arnold soon barged over to leave it 42-13.
Lowe’s hat-trick score followed, with replacement Ross Byrne’s initial dummy setting it up, and the same two players combined again right at the death.
Byrne’s chip kick put Lowe over to the left of the posts after replacement Papali’i had muscled over at the other end.