Robbie Henshaw believes Leinster will have to go up at least another level if they are to become five-time European champions.
Henshaw helped the PRO14 champions come from 14-0 down at Sandy Park on Saturday to win their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final 34-22 over Exeter Chiefs, ending the reign of the reigning titleholders on their home ground.
It was a brilliant comeback after a torrid start for Leinster as their defence creaked twice in the opening 10 minutes, Exeter winger Tom O’Flaherty scoring two tries both converted by Joe Simmonds.
Leinster, who had been handed a walkover over Toulon in last weekend’s Round of 16 after a positive Covid test in the French club’s camp, quickly shook off any rust from the enforced break and levelled through tries from wings James Lowe and Jordan Larmour.
They even overcame the loss of captain Johnny Sexton to a Head Injury Assessment on 27 minutes, his replacement Ross Byrne sliding excellently into the fly-half role to kick a conversion and two penalties before half-time to give the visitors a 20-14 interval lead.
Larmour struck again on 57 minutes to cancel out a Dave Ewers try for the home side on 14 minutes earlier and Leinster’s defensive solidity and superior set-piece saw Leo Cullen’s side home on the back of a conversion and two more penalties by Byrne.
“We knew from the start of the week it was going to take a massive squad effort, coming to the champions’ home patch and taking them on upfront,” star of the match Henshaw told BT Sport. “Fair play to Exeter, they showed their class in those first 10 minutes when we were 14-0 down so we knew it was going to take a valiant effort.
“I think that’s up there with the toughest game we’ve played all year. It was near international standard and certainly our defence was put under huge stress by Exeter. And fair play, for our forward pack they rolled their sleeves up and muscled up towards the end of the game and really helped us get over the line.”
Leinster’s progression to the last four leaves them two games from adding a fifth star above the crest on their blue jerseys and a return to the winners’ circle for the first time since 2018. They will learn their semi-final opponents in Sunday night’s draw following Sunday’s two all-French quarters between Bordeaux and Racing and Clermont against Toulouse, La Rochelle having brushed aside Sale Sharks earlier on Saturday.
Asked what it will take to win a record fifth title, Henshaw added: “We know it’s going to be a huge effort from all the squad. We’ll have a look at the other games now but all the teams in the quarters are all top-class outfits and we need to back that performance up going into the semis and do even better if we are to get even to the final. So we’ll take it one step at a time and build from there.”