Croft laments Leicester's lack of cunning after European exit

Leinster 17 Leicester 10
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The Independent Online

Whatever it was that enabled Leicester to dominate European competition a decade ago, it was not playing to the letter of the law. That turn-of-the-century team waged the physical battle to its limits and had a few hard-eyed so-and-so's led by Martin Johnson capable of getting the rest of the job done with mental resourcefulness.

Unfortunately there are only so many Johnsons to go around in a generation, or even a lifetime, and everyone from the kids waving blue Leinster banners at the renovated Lansdowne Road to the Dublin taxi drivers ferrying sad-eyed Tigers supporters to the airport yesterday morning had seen it in this Heineken Cup quarter-final. Leinster beat Leicester at their own game.

Tom Croft, the Leicester flanker, did not concede the point absolutely – after all, it goes to the core of what it means to be a Leicester player – but he went some way towards it after Isa Nacewa's 49th-minute try and Jonathan Sexton's four penalties knocked the champions of 2001 and 2002 out. Leinster's Kevin McLaughlin was a menace to Leicester in the line-out, jogging the arm of Ed Slater as one of four lost Tigers throws led, after a few phases and a missed touch kick by Ben Youngs, to Nacewa, the Leinster full-back, who scored.

Though Leicester gradually got to grips with the scrummage it was jolting to find that – as when England were beaten in their Grand Slam bid on the same ground three weeks previously – the Irish felt it was an area to attack in the formative minutes of the match.

"In the first 15 or 20 minutes we weren't as physical as we should have been at the breakdown," Croft said. "Sometimes we were trying to be good and go straight through the gate whereas they [Leinster] may have taken things from the side. It's something we need to learn."

Croft also said "it felt like a pretty decent game to watch", which certainly would not have interested Johnson when he was on the wrong end of a big result, or even the right end. The cumulative effect of these two Dublin defeats – it could be argued, of course, the results might have been different at Welford Road or Twickenham – was to question the cuteness and cussedness of Croft and his England club-mates Youngs, Toby Flood, Louis Deacon and Dan Cole. Each of them, at least, has a few years left in them to work it out.

Leinster had leaders aplenty. Brian O'Driscoll, though barely able to lift an arm in the tackle due to various bangs – some of them inflicted by the hugely promising Manu Tuilagi – bobbed and weaved as ever. Richardt Strauss was a ball of energy, and Sean O'Brien's never-say-die lunge put Alesana Tuilagi off just enough for the Leicester wing to hit the touchline in-goal as he dived for what would have been a valuable try two minutes into the second half.

If the score had stood Leicester might have led 10-9. Instead Nacewa, benefiting from another undetected forward pass, weaved 40 metres through the Leicester backs and it was 14-3.

Scorers: Leinster: Try Nacewa; Pens Sexton 4.

Leicester: Try Hawkins; Con Flood; Pen Flood.

Leinster I Nacewa; S Horgan (F McFadden, 75), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan (I Boss, 58); C Healy (H van der Merwe, 77), R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), N Hines, K McLaughlin (D Ryan, 67), S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Leicester S Hamilton; H Agulla (M Smith, 77), M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich (D Cole, 75), G Chuter (R Hawkins, 75), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 51), L Deacon (E Slater, 28), S Mafi, T Croft, C Newby (capt), J Crane (T Waldrom, 61).

Referee N Owens (Wales).