Four-try Lowe to the fore as Leinster swat aside Connacht in second leg rout

Likely quarter-final date with Leicester booked in the diary after Aviva hammering

Leinster 56 Connacht 20

Not surprisingly, Leinster simply had too much power, skill and attacking variety and verve for their western neighbours and maintained their ridiculous average of eight tries and 56 points per game in this season's Heineken Champions Cup by scoring, well, eight tries and 56 points.

Their reward is, almost certainly, a quarter-final away to Leicester in three weeks' time.

All across the gain line Leinster were just too physically imposing for Connacht. Their battalion of big ball carriers repeatedly kept crashing into contact and pumping their legs over the gain line, often offloading as well.

Yet so respectful did the Connacht defenders have to be towards this carrying threat, they were frequently stood up and forced to concede space out wide by the ability of Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier et al when pulling the ball back or through tip on passes.

Jamison Gibson-Park set the wheels of this well-oiled machine in motion, Johnny Sexton provided expert direction, two-try Robbie Henshaw looks primed for a big end of season and James Lowe helped himself to four tries.

When Connacht willingly carried they were repulsed on the gain line until finally making some inroads in the final quarter after the introduction of the Brive-bound duo of Abraham Papali'I and Conor Oliver.

Although the game lost not just its sense of jeopardy but also much of its intensity and interest long before the end, to their credit Connacht didn’t chuck in the towel.

Fast Start

As in the first leg, Connacht started well, if not quite so sensationally. Cian Prendergast's strength over the ball won a penalty which Jack Carty landed and the Connacht outhalf's grubber off another nice launch play had them hammering at the Leinster line. But Caolin Blade used up an advantage by sniping and Carty also pulled the subsequent kick wide, which would have put them ahead on aggregate.

And that was pretty much that.

Out of the blue, Leinster struck. Beginning with a high take by Hugo Keenan, a pass out the back led to Lowe, Jimmy O'Brien and finally Robbie Henshaw releasing Josh Murphy up the touchline, and Lowe was on hand inside to put the supporting Gibson-Park away.

A brilliant tackle by Bundee Aki on O'Brien as he looped off his wing shut the door on another attack but it was harshly adjudged a knock-on. A scrum penalty and lineout to the corner led to Lowe coming off his wing and linking deftly with Henshaw, who swivelled out of Aki's tackle to score the second.

Lowe came in off his wing for another strike play to take Josh van der Flier's pass and then offload back to the openside, who made significant inroads before a sequence of pick-and-goes ended with Tadhg Furlong burrowing over, helped by a little pre-latch by Ross Molony.

When Aki tried to stem the tide with a big hit on Sexton he connected shoulder to shoulder but also head to chin and was binned. Sexton exacted full retribution, tapping into the corner and taking Henshaw’s pass behind the decoy run of Caelan Doris with a tipped pass inside for Lowe to crash over.

Leinster could withdraw Jack Conan, who'd received treatment for what appeared a neck injury and there wasn't much relief for Connacht in the sight of Rhys Ruddock replacing him.

Efficiency

In six visits to the Connacht 22 they’d scored four tries, while restricting Connacht to three points from four visits. Within a minute that had become five tries from seven visits. Breaks by Rónan Kelleher through the front door and O’Brien out wide too them to the Connacht line before Henshaw had the space to breeze over.

Connacht then lost a dazed Finlay Bealham after a collision with a teammate but responded with a well-worked try, Carty pulling the trigger by pulling the ball behind Aki, just back on, for O'Halloran to score.

But they were soon reduced to 13 men by that daft rule last seen here for the Ireland-Italy game at the next scrum. With Bealham injured and Jack Aungier binned for taking out van der Flier, Matt Burke replaced Jarrad Butler and Oliver had to be sacrificed.

Leinster weren't going to pass up that space, Sexton sending Garry Ringrose through a gap and Lowe danced over from the centre's pass, despite it still looking forward on replays.

Connacht's next scrum launch play was rather restricted given Aki and Mack Hansen were in the backrow, but to their credit they still conjured a penalty off 17 phases before returning to 15-a-side. Encouraged by that sequence, they again attacked directly, hammering at the line until Oliver finished well from close range.

Stung, Leinster responded, Henshaw trucking up lineout ball before van der Flier pulled the ball out the back for Ross Byrne to dummy through and put Lowe over for his third.

But Connacht returned to their route one approach, and Abraham Papali’i muscled over by the touchline. Peering into the sun from the right touchline, Carty landed his most difficult kick of the evening.

Yet, fittingly, Leinster’s eighth try encapsulated their forwards’ mix of power and passing skills before Byrne chipped the ball in behind for Lowe to gather the bouncing ball and score his fourth.

Scoring sequence: 2 mins Carty pen 0-3; 11 mins Gibson-Park try, Sexton con 7-3; 18 mins Henshaw try, Sexton con 14-3; 28 mins Furlong try, Sexton con 21-3; 36 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 28-3; (half-time 28-3); 41 mins Henshaw try, Sexton con 35-3; 46 mins O'Halloran try 35-8; 57 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 42-8; 62 mins Arnold try 42-13; 66 mins Lowe try, Byrne con 49-13; 70 mins Abraham Papali'i try, Carty con 49-20; 80 mins Lowe try, Byrne con 56-20.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O'Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Josh Murphy, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Rhys Ruddock for Conan (37 mins), Dan Sheehan for Kelleher, Ed Byrne for Porter, Michael Ala'alatoa for Furlong (all 51 mins), Devin Toner for Murphy, Ross Byrne for Sexton (both 57 mins), Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park (64 mins), Ciarán Frawley for Ringrose (68 mins).

Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Caolin Blade; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Leva Fifita, Cian Pendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler.

Replacements: Denis Buckley for Burke (41 mins), Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury, Sammy Arnold for Farrell (all 44 mins), Burke for Butler (52-59 mins), Johnny Murphy for Heffernan, Abraham Papali'I for Butler, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Conor Fitzgerald for O'Halloran (all 60 mins).

Sinbinned: Aki (36-46 mins), Aungier (49-59 mins).

Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).