Leinster vs Leicester Tigers: Irish province’s lengthy preparation to be put to the test

Bigger and more dynamic Leinster pack than one that was bullied in previous seasons

Heineken Champions Cup: Leicester Tigers vs Leinster, Welford Road, Saturday 5.30pm, (live on BT Sport 2)

So Leinster have arrived at that familiar, almost defining, point in their season. Rolling over inferior opposition in the URC or the Champions Cup pool stages is all well and good, but then along comes the acid test, the kind of heavyweight opposition that targets their set-piece and beats them up a little physically, with Will Skelton a common denominator, and preventing them from achieving their inventive attacking rhythm.

Cue the post-match inquisition. Oh, if only they had a Will Skelton etc.

For Saracens (twice) La Rochelle in the last three seasons, read Leicester. Steve Borthwick has remoulded and revived the Tigers in both his and their image. Akin to Saracens in their pomp, they play little or no rugby in their own half and test their opponent's patience and kick/chase games.

Leicester kick the most out of hand in the Premiership and the Champions Cup (204 times in six games), and by a distance. In their opening win away to Bordeaux they kicked the ball in open play 58 times.

Ben Youngs will go to the air and George Ford will explore the backfield, the edges and the space in behind. He has kicked more than he's passed in this competition.

Hence, while Leinster will have to be true to themselves, take more risks, look to play at a higher tempo, keep the ball in hand more and reach the edges, as in the kick-tennis, they’ll have to be selective and accurate.

Not that Leicester don’t have some good launch plays and potency, as well as a strong defence. Accordingly Leinster’s status as seven-point favourites, with Paddy Power anyway, would seem more realistic in a two-legged tie rather than a one-off quarter-final at Leicester’s fortress.

It's not a 25,000-plus sell-out, and with 2,000 tickets bought in Ireland the hope must be that there will be 3-4,000 in blue making themselves seen and heard. Yet this has always been an old-school crowd and every time Leinster's defence push off the line thousands will howl for offside in unison. Every time the Leicester scrum inches forward, they'll want the ball to stay at the feet of Jasper Weise as they howl for a penalty again.

In this and his carrying the Bristol-bound Ellis Genge has become quite a focal point for Leicester and keeping him quiet will be imperative. Cue Mathieu Raynal, who pinged Tadhg Furlong four times and Ireland six times at Twickenham when he was up against Genge. As three of those were errors, it's likely that Raynal won't be as swayed by the emotion of the occasion again.

The penalty count, and the possibility of cards, hangs over this game like all others but Leinster are a disciplined side, whereas Leicester have a few serial offenders.

Although Connacht stressed Leinster in the first leg in Galway, it's true that averaging 56 points and eight tries per game won't have prepped Leinster for this. But then again 13 of this match-day squad played in Twickenham and ever since the full-time whistle in that second leg against Connacht 22 days ago, and maybe even slightly before, Leo Cullen, Stuart Lancaster and the leadership group have been planning for only one game. This one.

By all accounts they've been beasted in training, but when obliged to take a Covid-enforced four-week break around the turn of the year, Leinster returned with those 89-7 and 64-7 wins over Montpellier and Bath.

Those encounters will bear no relation to this one, but then again, is the Premiership still a little over hyped? And this is bigger, more dynamic Leinster pack than in the previous three seasons.

Bottom line, if Leinster play very well, Leinster win.

LEICESTER TIGERS: Freddie Steward; Chris Ashton, Matias Moroni, Guy Porter, Harry Potter; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge (capt), Julian Montoya, Dan Cole; Ollie Chessum, Calum Green; Hanro Liebenberg, Tommy Reffell, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Nic Dolly, James Whitcombe, Joe Heyes, Harry Wells, George Martin, Richard Wigglesworth, Freddie Burns, Nemani Nadolo. 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, James Ryan; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala'alatoa, Joe McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Tommy O'Brien.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Forecast: Leinster to win.

Latest Stories