Leinster claim bonus-point win over depleted Scarlets
LEINSTER geared up for their Heineken Cup double header against Northampton Saints with a comfortable win over the Scarlets that moves them four points behind Munster at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 table.
With seven of the Welsh region’s leading lights in action at the Millenium Stadium earlier in the day, Simon Easterby’s side were unable to contain the hosts at the RDS with Springbok Zane Kirchner putting in a strong display from full-back as his side secured maximum points.
Ian Madigan did well having been handed the No 10 jersey, kicking five from six, and he got the province off the mark with an eighth minute penalty, before a piece of Kirchner ingenuity sent Luke Fitzgerald down the left wing to set up the opening try. The Scarlets defence scrambled to halt his march, but Eoin Reddan whipped the ball right where Madigan fed Brendan Macken and the young centre put his head down and scampered over.
The out-half nudged the conversion just wide but it wasn’t long before he was lining up another as Kirchner was held up on the line by a brilliant Gareth Maule’s tackle after more fine interplay with Fitzgerald. Jack McGrath forced a penalty from the scrum, Shane Jennings went for the re-set and the front row marched the Scarlets back twice in succession to give referee Ian Davies no option but to award a penalty try.
The home side were utterly dominant at this stage and a Macken chip and chase ended in a knock-on, but Gareth Davies’ put-in to the scrum was crooked and Leinster opted for the set-piece, sending Lote Tuquiri at the defence. The Australian’s carry was followed by a series of pick and jams ended with Television Match Official Kevin Beggs confirming McGrath had gotten over the line.
Madigan converted and Leinster stood on the brink of a bonus point after just 26 minutes, but it was the visitors who finished the half in the ascendancy with returning Leo Cullen heading for the sin-bin for a ruck infringement 5m from the home line.
A series of big tackles from Shane Jennings, Gordon D’Arcy and McGrath kept them at bay and Leinster led 22-0 at the break.
After their scrum problems it was unsurprising that Easterby replaced his entire front row at half-time and the new men forced a penalty against Leinster’s seven man effort at the first opportunity, before getting the nudge on at a close-in scrum. The ball popped out and Jennings looked to have secured it, but his knock-on fell kindly to Davies who raced in to get the Scarlets off the mark.
Aled Thomas missed the conversion and Cullen returned to help shore up the pack and almost instantly the visitors were reduced to 14 as Davies used the big screed to indict Sione Timani for a foot-trip on Tuquiri.
Leinster went for the jugular but Fitzgerald was denied in the corner by a brilliant Nick Reynolds tackle that forced his knee into touch and it was the hosts who scored against the run of play as they countered from a loose ball with replacement Jordan Williams starting a length of the field move that saw the same man halted by Kirchner, but the men in red recycled and Thomas fed Maule who scored and the out-half converted.
Suddenly, Leinster’s lead had been cut in two and O’Connor sent on Jimmy Gopperth for D’Arcy and Sean Cronin for Aaron Dundon. The replacement hooker hit the ground running with a brilliant carry that put the Welsh side on the back foot and two phases later the bonus point was secured as Eoin Reddan scurried over in the corner.
Despite Gopperth’s arrival, Madigan kept the kicking tee and nailed the touchline conversion and Kirchner added the cherry on top with his side’s fifth and final try with three minutes remaining as Darragh Fanning fielded a loose kick and fed Tuquiri who countered, fed Gopperth and he off-loaded to the Springbok who crossed for his first try for the club to cap a strong display as Madigan nailed another brilliant kick.
Macken spent the final moments in the sin-bin after a high tackle and Adam Warren managed a consolation try in the final minutes but it was of little importance.
The only concern for O’Connor will be the injuries to Shane Jennings and Martin Moore that saw the pair forced off, but with the rest of the Ireland stars to return this week there is plenty to build on ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Franklin’s Gardens.
LEINSTER – Z Kirchner; L Tuquiri, B Macken, G D’Arcy (J Gopperth 60), L Fitzgerald (D Fanning 63); I Madigan, E Reddan (L McGrath 63); J McGrath (M Bent 63), A Dundon (S Cronin 60), M Moore (M Ross 24); L Cullen, M McCarthy (T Denton 68); R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt) (D Ryan 56), J Murphy.
SCARLETS – G Owen (J Williams 24); N Reynolds, G Maule (J Lewis 60), A Warren, F Climo; A Thomas, G Davies (A Davies 60); P John (capt) (R Evans h-t), K Myhill (E Phillips h-t), J Adriaanse (H Pungea h-t); J Ball, J Snyman (R Kelly 60); A Shingler, J Barclay, S Timani (J Turnbull 79).
Referee: I Davies (Wales)