Rugby Union

Exeter give up European crown as Leinster close in on fifth Champions Cup title

Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster ended Exeter’s six-month reign as champions of Europe in emphatic fashion last night.

The former England boss watched proudly as his side came from 14 points down at Sandy Park to hand Chiefs their first Champions Cup defeat in 12 games.

It maintained Leinster’s record of never having lost to England’s top club and put Lancaster within two wins of his second European triumph in four years.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter accepted the better side won and admitted: “The changing room is very quiet, very dejected.

“We went into meltdown mode a little bit too early. We’ve learned some very tough lessons.”

Exeter's defeat and Sale's 45-21 loss at La Rochelle mean there will be no English side in the semi-finals for only the second time since 2013.

“The thing that will frustrate us the most when we review the game is that the three or four times we got in really good shape, we scored tries,” Baxter added.

“When we actually played, we created quite a lot of pressure on Leinster. The times we just went off-script, we started going from side to side and got turned over.

“If we want to become a really good side and consistent in Europe we have to learn from this.”

Star of the show was Ireland fly-half Ross Byrne who came off the bench to replace injured Johnny Sexton and turn the game Leinster’s way with 17 points.

Until then it had looked easy for Exeter who raced into a 14-point lead inside the first 10 minutes.

A week after gifting Lyon the same early advantage in the previous round and having to dig themselves out of a hole, they were this time on it from the start.

Sam Simmonds burst off the back of the first scrum and pulled a pass back for his half-backs to release Tom O’Flaherty, who skipped out of two weak tackles to score.

Henry Slade then held the Leinster backs spellbound as he danced along the gain line before cutting between the centres and sending O’Flaherty in for his second.

The Dubliners tried to rally but first Ollie Devoto, then Jonny Gray, thwarted them with huge defensive plays on their own try line.

It was going to need something special to undo the champions and it came on 18 minutes when Hugo Keenan powered deep into Chiefs territory.

The Ireland fullback was scragged by Stuart Hogg yet somehow managed to work the scoring pass out to James Lowe.

Sexton’s conversion was his last contribution as he then took a blow to the head and failed his HIA.

Yet rather than it stall their comeback, Ross Byrne came off the bench and with his first touch sent Jordan Larmour over with a pinpoint pass.

Now Leinster had the momentum and might have made it count earlier had Jonny Hill been carded, rather than concede only a penalty, for a borderline dangerous hit on Byrne just before half-time.

Instead it was Exeter who scored the next try, through Dave Ewers, and with Joe Simmonds kicking them back in front a semi-final place was within reach.

But Leinster have not won four titles by rolling over in adversity and Larmour spun brilliantly out of a tackle for his second try on the hour.

Byrne was again clattered high, without a card being shown, but kept his composure to kick his side two scores clear.

And when his team mates first absorbed then snuffed out an Exeter driving passage of play the prize was theirs.

EXETER – Tries: O’Flaherty 2, Ewers. Cons: J Simmonds 2. Pen: J Simmonds.

LEINSTER – Tries: Lowe, Larmour 2. Cons: Sexton, Byrne. Pens: Byrne 5.

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