Dublin may be a fair city but England had no fun here three weeks ago, seeing their Grand Slam bid go west on this ground, and the English club champions suffered fresh agonies yesterday as they were knocked out of the Heineken Cup. Leinster must now be favourites to win the trophy, as they have a home semi-final in this neck of the woods and a final in Cardiff to aim at.
Fairness, in fact, was severely in question during Leinster's match-clinching try, early in the second half. Their Fiji full-back, Isa Nacewa,passed probably a metre forward to Shane Horgan on halfway but was allowed to play on – and goodness how Nacewa played on. From the 10-metre line he weaved through Leicester's backs, flummoxing Scott Hamilton, holding off Horacio Agulla and slamming the ball down one-handed before Ben Youngs could stop him. It gave Leinster an 11-point lead with just over half an hour to go.
"I didn't see it," said Leinster's coach, Joe Schmidt, "but you have to wear those things. Isa still had a lot to do to score."
The try was doubly wounding to Leicester, who had lost a line-out throw in its inception, as it came six minutes after Alesana Tuilagi had seen a score at the left corner chalked off by the television match official. The giant wing looked set to finish a straightforward backs move when he bounced off Leinster's Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll, but credit was due to a magnificent last-ditch lunge by the flanker Sean O'Brien as the giant Samoan wing made a full-length dive. The TMO judged Tuilagi to be in touch in-goal – there could not have been more than a few hairs on his knee in it.
"In the big games you've got to execute your chances," said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby. "But I'm not going to criticise Alesana. Our boys played to the death. It was all down to tiny margins and on balance we didn't deserve to win."
O'Driscoll and O'Brien were among 14 players rejoining battle from the recent Six Nations match – nine of Ireland's side and five of England's. But it was club and local pride at stake as Leicester tried to fight back. They kept committing bodies to the breakdown, crashing to the turf in twos or threes without punishment from the referee, but Toby Flood suffered an awful déjà vu when he missed a penalty on 52 minutes from almost the same, mid-range spot as a hook he made in the first half against Ireland.
It fell to his opposite number, Jonny Sexton, to kick his fourth penalty after 74 minutes for 17-3 – the other three had gone over in a taut first half that had Leinster 9-3 up at its conclusion – and though the replacement hooker Rob Hawkins' try from a ruck set up by the other Tuilagi, Manu, and converted by Flood, gave Leicester a sniff of a draw, they were done for.
So after knocking out the Premiership's second-best team, Saracens, in the pool, Leinster have waved the champions and league leaders on their way. The Tigers will regret at leisure the home draw with Perpignan that did most to condemn them to this tricky trip to the side who beat them in the Heineken Cup finaltwo years ago. This strangely proportioned stadium, reminiscent of a concrete bean-bag that has been sat on at one end, will host Leinster's semi-final in three weeks' time against Biarritz or Toulouse, unless Ulster beat Northampton today, in which case Leinster will be at Croke Park and Ulster here.
In these teams' 11th Heineken Cup meeting – it's 6-5 to Leinster – Sexton's fourth-minute penalty was cancelled out by Flood's 40m kick. The defences had the best of it – Manu Tuilagi showing up powerfully in the first half with a thumping tackle on Kevin McLaughlin; a blindside crunch of Gordon D'Arcy's shoulder; a hand-off of the great O'Driscoll.
But Leinster went 6-3 up with a 15th-minute penalty by Sexton that hit both posts, and they butchered a great chance four minutes later when Luke Fitzgerald overran the hooker Richardt Strauss and dropped his pass. Leicester earned a penalty at a 27th-minute scrum but it was the line-out that would find the Tigers out. Sexton's third penalty for 9-3 came three minutes before half-time and the Tuilagi try that wasn't, and Nacewa's that was but should not have been, more or less decided the rest.
Leinster I Nacewa; S Horgan (F McFadden, 75), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan (I Boss, 59); C Healy (H van der Merwe, 78), R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), N Hines; K McLaughlin (D Ryan, 68), S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Leicester S Hamilton; H Agulla, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich (Cole, 75), G Chuter (R Hawkins, 75), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 52); L Deacon (E Slater, 29), S Mafi; T Croft, C Newby (capt; Crane, 75), J Crane (T Waldrom, 62).
Referee N Owens (Wales).