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Leicester win comfortably as floodgates open in the second half

By PA
(Photo by PA)

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Leicester booked a mouth-watering Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final with Leinster after completing the job against Clermont Auvergne with a 27-17 win. A brilliant performance in France six days earlier afforded Steve Borthwick’s side a 19-point advantage entering the second leg at a near-capacity Mattioli Woods Welford Road, where the hosts are unbeaten since June 2021.

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An incident-packed first half yielded only one try through Hanro Liebenberg, but the floodgates opened in the second with Matt Scott and Freddie Steward touching down as well as a penalty try award as the Tigers wrapped up a 56-27 aggregate win.

Clermont kept the tie respectable as Alivereti Raka and Fritz Lee landed tries, the second of which came after Ollie Chessum’s red card that could rule the England international out of the last-eight encounter in early May. However, the Premiership leaders would not be denied a quarter-final berth.

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After surviving an early storm as the visitors turned down kicks at goal in favour of the tries they needed, it was the Tigers who scored with their first foray into the attacking 22. Captain Ellis Genge rampaged at the heart of the defence and a rapid recycle later, Liebenberg reached over for a try which George Ford converted.

Camille Lopez’s penalty got Clermont on the scoreboard and more could have followed as Raka made a huge line break. The danger appeared to be averted with Ford’s strip, but his resulting kick was charged down and then grounded by Baptiste Jauneau, only for the TMO to rule it was grounded on the deadball line.

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A flurry of action late in the first half saw Harry Wells spill while driving for the line while Chris Ashton’s dive at a Jack van Poortvliet grubber was knocked on. With two Tigers players down injured, Clermont pounced as Jauneau broke on a sublime diagonal run and with Ford closing down, the scrum-half hurled a pass inside to Giorgi Beria, who fumbled with the line at his mercy.

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Wesley Fofana’s break at the start of the second period was then expertly ended by Reffell’s tap tackle. Ford stretched Leicester’s lead with a penalty before mesmerising the French defence with a goosestep and dummy, allowing Reffell to put Scott in for the score that opened a colossal aggregate lead of 31 points with as many minutes to play.

Clermont finally registered the try they had threatened when Cheikh Tiberghien broke free and fed Raka for a simple finish. However, it failed to spark a late comeback as Ford’s masterful restart caused chaos. Etienne Fourcade saw yellow before Leicester forced their way to a penalty try as Daniel Bibi Biziwu became the second Clermont front-row to be cautioned in a minute.

That numerical advantage did not last long as Chessum was dismissed for a shoulder to the head of Samuel Ezeala. It was followed by the try of the game as Harry Potter’s weaving run provided the assist for Steward. Clermont heads did not drop as Lee’s try, converted by Morgan Parra, proved to be the final scoring act but it was the Tigers who progressed to the last eight with a 56-27 aggregate win.

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