Leicester cruised into the Heineken Cup quarter finals after carrying out a predictable demolition job on outclassed Benetton Treviso.
The Tigers, needing a try-scoring bonus point to guarantee their progress from Pool Five, achieved that feat by half-time at Welford Road. Number eight Jordan Crane (two), full-back Scott Hamilton and wing Alesana Tuilagi all touched down during the first 40 minutes with fly-half Toby Flood adding three conversions and a penalty.
Treviso, trailing 29-3 and having seen two of their forwards sin-binned, then faced a prolonged damage-limitation exercise as Leicester followed their Aviva Premiership Rugby rivals Northampton into the last eight.
Crane completed his hat-trick, while flanker Thomas Waldrom and Hamilton also crossed after the break, before late scores by centre Manu Tuilagi and substitute Steve Mafi. There was still time for a third Treviso yellow card when replacement Alberto Sgarbi was cautioned as Flood completed a 17-point haul.
Perpignan’s bonus-point win against the Scarlets in France proved enough for them to top the group, meaning Leicester progress as best runners-up and face an away tie against the second seeds, Leinster, in April. The Tigers will be relieved to have kept alive hopes of a third European title after lifting the trophy in 2001 and 2002, given their failure to beat Perpignan home or away this season.
They did not hit top gear against a limited Treviso outfit, but last weekend’s victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli had set them up for a last-eight spot, an opportunity Leicester did not spurn.
The Tigers, aiming to book their 10th Heineken Cup quarter-final appearance, made one change following the Scarlets win as England prop Dan Cole started instead of Martin Castrogiovanni. Italian champions Treviso, meanwhile, arrived in the east midlands without a European away victory since they beat Newport Gwent Dragons three years ago.
But they went ahead after just 32 seconds through fly-half Kristopher Burton’s drop-goal, giving Leicester an immediate reminder that Treviso did not intend to merely make up the numbers.
Flood hauled Leicester level through a ninth-minute penalty and Treviso showed the first sign of cracking when Tigers resorted to their traditional forward power. Referee Romain Poite had no hesitation in sin-binning Treviso prop Lorenzo Cittadini when he tackled Crane from an offside position, and alarm bells were ringing throughout the Italian camp.
Crane claimed a 17th-minute pushover try, and although Flood could not convert, Leicester were up and running, 8-3 in front. Treviso, temporarily a man down, could not cope with escalating Tigers territorial dominance, and they conceded a second try when Crane blasted through in midfield to set up attacking options either side of him.
Hamilton proved the beneficiary, gliding over on an outside angle for a well-worked score that Flood converted, putting Leicester 15-3 in front after 25 minutes. Treviso just had no answer, and after they lost a second player to the sin-bin – flanker Valerio Bernabo – Leicester’s ruthless pack prospered again as Crane lunged over from five metres.
Another Flood conversion left Treviso 19 points adrift – and Tigers one try from a bonus point – before a heated exchange involving both packs resulted in Poite warning Louis Deacon and Cittadini.
Leicester now had momentum, and the all-important fourth try was sealed as half-time approached. Treviso could not handle Leicester’s array of off-the-ball runners and Alesana Tuilagi touched down, with Flood’s conversion taking Tigers 26 points clear at the interval.
The one-way traffic continued as Crane added his third touchdown, then Waldrom crossed – Flood converting both tries – before Treviso managed a consolation try by full-back Brendan Williams.
Treviso substitute Tobias Botes added another score for the visitors, but Leicester had long since entered auto-pilot mode, their job emphatically done in terms of qualification which was underlined through further touchdowns from Manu Tuilagi and Mafi.