Guinness Pro 14 Leinster v Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium – Special report by Iwan Lewis in Dublin and Alan Evans in Llanelli
IT was a close game according to the final score but the reality for those watching on TV sets and at the Aviva Stadium was that the Leinster side were just too damn good to cope with. No surprise given the out and out talent in the team and the sheer size of the squad in numbers. This is a wealthy Irish team who can take their pick of home grown and international talent.
Some might say that the Scarlets were unlucky or that they have just been plagued by injury and lack the strength in numbers of Leinster. What they may or may not lack in those areas was outweighed by the passion and pride in their play today. There was no rolling over and playing dead. They battled up until the very last second of the game and the scoreboard looked a little bit more respectable as a result.
As some of the squad leave for other climes and some join the Welsh team on tour Wayne Pivac will have plenty of time to reflect and build on what has been a close but no cigars season to be proud of.
The Scarlets faithful made the trip once more across the Irish Sea and no doubt sampled plenty of the black stuff and exchanged some cans of Cwrw Felinfoel at the border control. It worked in Grand Slam anyway.
The first half of the match unfolded with Man of the Match Johnny Sexton putting the first three points on the scoreboard with a penalty. There were more to come for the talented Irish international.
Three minutes later and the Scarlets had drawn level through a penalty after Tadhg Furlong illegally pulled back Rob Evans in an off the ball incident. Three minutes later and the Scarlets went ahead with a long range penalty taken by Leigh Halfpenny. Four minutes later and Sexton brought Leinster level at 6-6.
Eight minutes later and that man Johnny Sexton could not put a foot wrong even when he put a foot wrong he converted a penalty to make it 9-6. Leinster signalled their intentions with a try on 30 minutes with Devon Tonner proving too strong for the Scarlets defence. Leinster went 14-6 up.
It was left to Johny McNicholl to get things going for the Scarlets and he did not disappoint. He got the first of his three tries following a great move from scrum-half Gareth Davies to make it 14-11.
Almost on the stroke of 40 minutes Leinster showed that they really were out to do the double. Kicking for the corner Leinster managed to bulldozed their way up field and presented the ball to the Scrum-half who in turn fed left-wing James Lowe who scored in the corner. The score of 21 – 11 at Half-time must have given the Scarlets cause for concern. They had to come out fighting and score first if they had any hope of getting back into the game.
It wasn’t to be as in the 52nd minute Leinster struck first with a try from hooker Sean Cronin to make it Leinster 28 – 11 Scarlets. Six minutes later the final nail was hammered in with a try from Will Boyde making it 33 -11.
The Scarlets will take hope from their performance and from their man of the match Johnny McNicholl who in the 64th minute went over in the corner for a try. The celebrations were short lived as the unstoppable Leinster side scored again in the 69th minute with a try from
number 8 Jack Conan. The scoreboard was equally cruel showing the score at 40-11 even though it was 40-18.
The Scarlets salvaged some self respect as they fought on to the death with replacement prop Werner Kruger scoring a try in the 78th minute and Johnny McNicholl stealing a try in the 80th minute. The late flurry by the Scarlets brought a fantastically entertaining game to a close with the final score Leinster 40 – 32 Scarlets.
SCARLETS: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens (capt), Samson Lee, Lewis Rawlins, Steve Cummins, Aaron Shingler, Tadhg Beirne, James Davies.
Reps: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, David Bulbring, Will Boyde, Jonathan Evans, Dan Jones, Tom Prydie.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (capt), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy.
Reps: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Jordi Murphy, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Rory O’Loughlin.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)