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Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg at The Sportsground will be Connacht Rugby’s first in the knockout stage of Europe’s premier club rugby competition and their first in the tournament against Leinster Rugby.
Leinster have previously faced both Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby twice, winning both their games against the latter, but winning one and losing one against the former.
The game kicks off at 20:00 UK and Irish time, and will be broadcast live on BT Sport and beIN SPORTS.
Other key facts:
- Connacht have won 56% of their home games in the Heineken Champions Cup (W10 L8), while Leinster have lost just one of their previous nine away games in the competition (23-32 to Stade Rochelais in last year’s semi-final).
- Leinster have won three of their previous seven matches away from home in the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup (W3 L4); only Toulouse and Munster (5 each) have won more knockout games away from home in the competition.
- Connacht have conceded 51 penalties in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup; only Castres Olympique (55) have conceded more. Leinster, by comparison have conceded 27 penalties.
- Leinster have averaged 66 points and 10 tries per game in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, both competition highs, and more than double Connacht’s averages (30 points and four tries per game).
- Connacht have missed 88 tackles so far in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, the most of any side. Leinster (37), meanwhile, are one of four sides to have missed fewer than 40.
- Connacht fly-half Jack Carty has made the most kicks in play of any player in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup (60), recording the most kicking meters in the process (2,178).
- Three of the five players to have made more than three try assists in the Heineken Champions Cup this season play for Leinster, with Jamison Gibson-Park recording the joint most (5, level with Billy Burns), one more than teammates Hugo Keenan and Ross Byrne (4 each).
- Only Ulster’s Michael Lowry (8) has made more line breaks in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup than Leinster duo Jimmy O’Brien (7) and James Lowe (6), while no player has averaged more carries (17) per game in this season’s Champions Cup than Leinster’s Jack Conan.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) April 5, 2022
Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan: “It’s the reason you play the game as a kid – it’s those massive games you dream about playing in. We’re dying to play in front of a packed Sportsground this weekend and we know it’s a special occasion for them, so we want to reward their support with a massive performance.”
Leinster hooker James Tracy: “We’re under no illusion that we’re going into the lion’s den. Going down to Connacht is going to be a tough battle. But we’re going to have a great week’s prep and go firing into it.”
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A try brace from wing James Lowe helped Leinster Rugby claim a 26-21 victory at Connacht Rugby in Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg at The Sportsground.
The four-time European champions were offered a stern test by their United Rugby Championship rivals, who crossed through John Porch and Salesi Fifita, with Jack Carty kicking 11 points.
However, Lowe’s double and a further score from Hugo Keenan proved enough for Leinster, who take their advantage into next week’s second leg.
Connacht fed off a boisterous home crowd and started the game on the front foot, marching into the Leinster 22m with a series of strong carries.
The visitors looked to have escaped as they turned over possession, but lock Fifita charged down a clearing kick to keep Connacht on the front foot before centre Bundee Aki delayed his pass to Porch perfectly to send his winger over in the corner.
Wonderful hands 🔥
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 8, 2022
Leinster began to grow into the game as the first half wore on, but they struggled to maintain significant pressure on Connacht’s defence and opted to kick a penalty through fly-half Johnny Sexton on 18 minutes.
Once on the score board, Leinster started clicking through the gears and they would grab their first try of the game four minutes later as Lowe came off his wing to take advantage of a disorganised Connacht defence and race over under the posts.
Sexton added the extras to put Leinster five points clear, and Leinster’s lead would be extended further as Lowe darted over for his second try in four minutes after linking with full-back Keenan.
Connacht fly-half Carty and Sexton exchanged penalties over the remainder of the half, with the former kicking his second in overtime to reduce the deficit to seven points at the break.
Connacht started the second half in the ascendancy, storming into the Leinster 22m and threatening the line, though they would have to settle for three points as Carty slotted a penalty from in front of the posts.
Leinster hit back and put Connacht under immense pressure on their own line – Lowe saw a hat-trick score ruled out by the TMO but the away side continued to win penalties at scrum time, and Keenan eventually found his way over for their third try from close range.
The pressure pays off 😎
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 8, 2022
But any Leinster plans to control the contest from then on took a hit as replacement scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.
Connacht immediately took advantage of the extra man, setting up camp on the Leinster line before forcing their way over the line through Fifita, Carty’s conversion reducing the deficit to two points.
The hosts went close to taking the lead on 65 minutes as replacement lock Oisin Dowling looked to finish off a fantastic move but lost the ball when attempting to dot down.
It was the same story at the other end moments later as Leinster flanker Caelan Doris knocked forward when grounding, and the two sides remained two points apart heading into the final 10 minutes.
Neither side was able to create a clear try scoring opportunity, though Leinster ensured they would take a five-point lead into next week’s second leg at Aviva Stadium as replacement fly-half Ross Byrne kicked a late penalty.