Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge in Champions Cup – Leinster Rugby

Leicester Tigers' toughest challenge
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Last Saturday’s emotional victory over Bristol Bears secured Leicester Tigers a home semi-final in the end-of-season play-offs. This weekend however is Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge yet as European heavyweights Leinster roll into town, for what should be a mouth-watering clash in the Champions Cup Quarter-Final.

As to be expected, the fixture has caught the excitement of the Leicester fanbase, who are eagerly looking forward to the encounter. As should be said, are many of the rugby media and TV pundits, with the fixture being described as the headline fixture of the weekend by some. What makes the game so exciting, is that both teams are top of their respective leagues, with the East-Midlanders also having a realistic shot at the victory that really would cement Borthwick’s reputation as an elite Head Coach. However, to pull off Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge so far this season, how will the club go about it

Leicester Tigers’ Toughest Challenge – Leinster Rugby

Elliott Butlin analyses this important Champions Cup match.

Home Advantage is Key

One of the main reasons why Leicester stand a decent chance at victory comes from the fact they are at home at the weekend. Under Steve Borthwick, they have remade Welford Road as the fearsome fortress it was in the club’s glory years. The Tigers are unbeaten all season in all competitions at their home ground, with the team also benefitting from the return of crowds post-pandemic. You will have to go back to May last year for the last time Leicester lost at home. Another raucous atmosphere is expected for the visit of the men from Dublin, who will know if they can silence the crowd they will go a long way to winning the game.

Leicester’s season has been characterized by how adept they are at winning games – they have only lost five all season from all the games they have played (33 in all competitions). Winning is a culture and a habit, and Leicester has fully made it theirs this year, especially at home. The team made it a priority to turn Welford Road back into a fortress, and with a 100% winning record at home, they have been completely successful in doing so. In a game of this magnitude, with such fine margins, having that home crowd behind them might prove to be the small point of difference between the two sides. Certainly, Borthwick has been emphasizing how important the fans are if Leicester Tigers’ biggest challenge is to be overcome.

Battle of the Front Rows

Leicester Tigers

As in most games, the battle between the two sets of forward packs will go a long way in deciding who will be the victor in this titanic match-up. This weekend is no different, with Leicester and Leinster having a set of forwards that are the envy of most. However, it is in the front row where both teams have an embarrassment of riches. For the home side, a trio of captain Ellis Genge, Argentinian superstar Julian Montoya and the experienced Dan Cole will all be crucial for Leicester if they are to be successful at the weekend.

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Genge has taken his game to another level this season, especially over the last few weeks. His ball-carrying prowess is well-known however, his scrummaging and defensive work, alongside his leadership skills have been exemplary. Montoya is very much in the running for Leicester’s player of the season and can be genuinely described as world-class in his position. Every element of his game is superb, and his work at the breakdown affecting turnover after turnover is staggeringly good. It is no exaggeration to say that if Montoya plays well, Leicester play well. Cole’s recent return to the side after an injury is a welcome boost to Leicester. This is mainly because he has formed an effective partnership with fellow tighthead and England International Joe Heyes, which allows Tigers to operate with a quality tighthead to be on the field for a full 80 minutes.

Leinster Rugby

For the away side, they are equally blessed with front row resources, with Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Tadgh Furlong the likely trio to be starting on Saturday afternoon. Leinster’s bench options are not too shabby either, with the likes of Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan and Michael Ala’alatoa all in strong contention to be on the bench for the away side. What makes this battle so intriguing is firstly down to the names involved; for example, the Genge v Furlong battle fully lives up to its heavyweight billing, especially after Genge looked to have got the upper hand when the pair met at the International level in the 6 Nations.

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Secondly, due to the importance, both sides hold in regards to the scrum and their set-piece overall. Both sides like to use their scrum to squeeze penalties against the opposition to drive better field position to launch future attacks, as well as deliver a dominant platform for their explosive backs to fire and deliver their best work. If either side can get on top in this area of the game, it will go a long way in deciding which side comes out on top overall.

Heavy Hitters Elsewhere

It is not just in the front row where the battles look gigantic in their magnitude. This is Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge because of how well Leinster can match them up front; an area of the game where Leicester look to get dominance to overpower their opposition. Elsewhere for Leinster, are the likes of returning second-row James Ryan, who is a truly exceptional player in his position. In the back row, the Dubliners also have Caleon Doris and Josh Van Der Flier who are fantastic flankers to have at a team’s disposal as well as Jack Conan who of course started all three Test Matches for the Lions in South Africa last year.

However, the East-Midlands side has some pretty heavy artillery of their own that they are getting ready to fire. South African big hitters like Jasper Wiese and Hanro Liebenberg will be licking their lips at taking on such exalted opposition, with both so important to Leicester in different ways. Wiese’s ball-carrying and extraordinary ability to clear the gain line is such an important reason why the Tigers have been so successful. He sucks in defenders, creating space for others with the destructive chaos he brings. Wiese has also improved his discipline to such an extent that it is almost a non-issue in recent weeks. Liebenberg is a consistent top performer for Leicester. His work at the line out, in defense and at the breakdown makes him one of the side’s key players and a huge factor in leading the Tigers to the top of the table.

Half-Backs Pulling Strings

Both sides are blessed with a pair of half-backs that are of International quality, with both pairs also leading strategists and capable of controlling a game through their own efforts. For the Tigers, the paring of Ben Youngs and George Ford are well-versed in using their full range of kicking and passing to give their side the control of the game. Leicester’s game plan is based upon dominating the collisions upfront, but also about controlling territory and possession. Both Youngs and Ford are experienced campaigners and know how to do just that. Both players have their critics, however, both just do the fundamentals of the game brilliantly well, and will need to be on top form at the weekend if Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge can be overcome.

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Leinster, with Jamison Gibson-Park and Jonny Sexton at the helm, is equally blessed with half-backs that can master their surroundings. Both bring a range of kicking and passing that helps the Dublin side control the game and squeeze their opponents out of the running. In addition, both are equally capable of producing magic moments from their fellow backs, unleashing attacking moves and patterns that bamboozle a defensive coach’s best-laid plans.

Too Close to Call?

In conclusion, this is Leicester Tigers’ toughest challenge of the season, against opponents that are much more advanced in their development compared to their own. Leinster brings a squad that is rich with talent and experience, that is desperate to add another Champions Cup win to their trophy cabinet. However, with Leicester’s strong home form, physical game plan and plenty of heavy hitters of their own, they will not be far off. What will be hard to dispute is that this game will likely live up to all the pre-match hype and billing, and be a terrific advertisement for European club rugby.

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