Leicester 34 Cardiff Blues 0
Leicester set up a mouthwatering Heineken Cup Pool Four decider against European champions Munster in Limerick next Saturday after giving Cardiff the blues at Welford Road.
Tigers moved top of their group in ruthless fashion, despatching Cardiff with four first-half tries which underpinned a surprisingly one-sided encounter.
Cardiff were never at the races, outplayed in all key areas, as Tigers warmed up for a showdown with Munster at Thomond Park, where the Irish giants have never lost a Heineken Cup game.
Munster will reclaim pole position if they beat Bourgoin in Geneva tomorrow, but Leicester’s European campaign is gathering impressive momentum.
A month after their last Heineken Cup outing – a 57-3 stroll past Bourgoin - Cardiff also found themselves blown away in front of a 16,000 crowd.
Early tries by Alesana Tuilagi, Dan Hipkiss and Daryl Gibson confirmed that Leicester meant business, then wing Seru Rabeni’s touchdown ensured maximum points, rendering the second period little more than a training exercise.
Cardiff offered little on a breezy, overcast day in the east Midlands, but Leicester can now flex their muscles for a concerted attempt to smash Munster’s imperious home record.
England flanker Lewis Moody added a fifth Leicester try midway through the second period, then number eight Martin Corry completed the rout by galloping over unopposed from 20 metres.
Leicester went into battle without injured fly-halves Andy Goode (hamstring) and Paul Burke (knee), so Ian Humphreys – younger brother of Ulster star David - made his tournament debut.
England forwards Julian White and Ben Kay featured on the bench, while scrum-half Harry Ellis made his 100th Tigers start in a team led by deposed red rose skipper Corry.
Cardiff, already out of quarter-final contention, included Rhys Shellard at openside flanker with Wales star Martyn Williams serving a three-week suspension, but the Blues were hopeful of avenging a narrow Millennium Stadium loss against Leicester almost three months ago.
But the Blues were rocked by a stunning Leicester start which saw them score two tries during the opening five minutes.
Leicester, mean and hungry from the kick-off, prised Cardiff open through some excellent Humphreys approach work which created panic in Blues’ defence, and full-back Geordan Murphy’s exquisite inside pass sent powerful wing Tuilagi crashing over.
Humphreys converted, but Cardiff found themselves in further disarray from the restart after they failed to gather a loose ball.
Leicester though, proved far more alert, and Hipkiss raced 50 metres unopposed, hoisting Tigers 12-0 ahead as Cardiff continued wondering what day it was.
Inevitably, Leicester were in no mood to take their foot off the pedal, and Gibson squeezed over for their third tryafter 11 minutes, leaving Cardiff facing a task of huge proportions.
The Blues, possibly lacking motivation given their European fate was already sealed, tried to produce some constructive passages of play, but Leicester proved a step ahead and the bonus-point try duly arrived nine minutes before half-time.
Relentless work by the Tigers forwards pinned Cardiff deep inside their own 22, and Humphreys’ pass saw Rabeni power through on an unstoppable angle before the fly-half’s conversion effectively made it a case of job done at 24-0 ahead.
Leicester took exactly the same amount of time – 31 minutes – to register a bonus point against Cardiff as they took on Bourgoin’s Welford Road visit just before Christmas, and there was no way back for the demoralised Welsh side.
A scoreless third quarter, accompanied by a raft of Leicester substitutions, demonstrated Tigers boss Pat Howard had one eye on next weekend’s trip to south-west Ireland.
Cardiff, to their credit, tried to produce some threatening passages of play, but lock Scott Morgan’s 61st-minute yellow card for stamping negated any serious fightback hopes.
And Morgan’s temporary exit provided an inevitable cue for the Leicester pack to move up a gear, with Moody adding a fifth Leicester try following an immense forward drive, ahead of Corry administering the final blow.