Scarlets hit for seven as Leinster claim top spot
Leinster 45 Scarlets 9
If you saw the way Scarlets dug themselves out of a hole in Thomond Park last weekend you reckoned that Leinster would be dealing with a team who don't do early exits. With only one defeat in their last 13 Guinness Pro12 games, they came to the RDS with high expectations. On a cold night where the swirling breeze carried some rain with it by the time the game was into its second quarter, our expectations were a bit off.
What was highly competitive in the first half turned into a rout after the break. If Scarlets had stunned Munster a week ago with a flurry of tries in quick succession then they were at the sharp end of the same experience last night. Four tries in 11 minutes of the third quarter warped the shape of the game. And at its end the home side had scored seven tries in all in a performance that exuded confidence. And took them to the top of the table.
From the carrying of Jack Conan to the finishing of Joey Carbery, Leinster had pretty much every base covered. That included the contribition of their bench which had been emptied, bar Max Deegan, with 20 minutes to go - he got a look in with 12 minutes left. Fittingly the try of the night went to one of those extras: on his first run out at the RDS in over two years, Ed Byrne got on the end of a sublime score that maneuvred the Scarlets defence and then shredded it.
If you were an agent looking to sign a few names then this is where you would start your search. Leinster are busy retaining what they can, but they won't be able to keep this size of a crew happy for long.
For 40 minutes the home team dominated territory and possession by almost 2:1. And by the finish that hadn't changed. Their set scrum was more comfortable but could have done with a few more lineouts to launch attacks into Scarlets' territory.
At least they were fairly efficient when they got into the green zone. And no one more than man of the match Luke McGrath. He is under increasing pressure from Jamison Gibson-Park, who has a noticeably better passing technique. McGrath has heaps of attitude though, and you can see it coming through in everything he does. Two tries in the opening 21 minutes was a good reward for him, as was the match award.
Leinster were 0-3 after 10 minutes - Dan Jones knocked over the first of this 3/3 first half penalties when Leinster were done for rear-foot offside - when McGrath struck for his first try.
Peter Dooley was having a really active game and contributed handsomely to Leinster getting a good position close to the Scarlets line. When awarded a penalty they opted for the scrum. It was rock solid and McGrath flew off the back to exploit a hole that hadn't been part of the Welsh defensive plan.
Ross Byrne's conversion gave the home side a 7-3 lead, and it had been pegged back to 7-6 - Zane Kirchner was the culprit - when McGrath got over again.
Dan Jones will cringe when it comes to the video review. Taking a pass off a scrum in his 22 he stepped back into the cover to get the ball on his right foot. First McGrath blocked him, and then he handed him off as Jones desperately tried to undo the damage. The scrumhalf didn't need the support on either side to score.
Byrne was blocked with the conversion after he had to drop kick in a hurry when the ball fell off the tee, so Scarlets only had a six-points deficit to chase. Jones closed it to three on 29 minutes, but shortly before the break they blew the chance to lead when wing Tom Williams dropped a pass with the cover beaten.
The second half was not showing signs of a dramatic swing until Rhys Ruddock came around the corner, on 48 minutes, for a try that looked a bit too easy. Then the dam burst. And in the flood Scarlets were washed away. Carbery hit them with two in four minutes, one of which was courtesy of a glorious pass form Noel Reid, before Ed Byrne got over on the hour mark. They added the seventh, through Gibson-Park, on the game's last play.
Scorers - Leinster: R Byrne try, 5 cons, L McGrath, J Carbery 2 tries each, R Ruddock, J Gibson-Park try each. Scarlets: D Jones 3 pens
Leinster: J Carbery; A Byrne (B Daly 60), Z Kirchner, N Reid (T Daly 56), F McFadden; R Byrne, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 60); P Dooley (E Byrne 57), R Strauss (B Byrne 57), M Bent (M Ross 49); R Molony, H Triggs (M McCarthy 60); R Ruddock (M Deegan 68), J Conan, D Leavy
Scarlets: J McNicholl; T Williams, S Hughes (J Nicolas 45), H Parkes (capt), DTH van der Merwe; D Jones (A Thomas 56), J Evans (D Smith 79); W Jones (L Garrett 69), E Elias (D Hughes 69), W Kruger (N Thomas 49); T Price, T Beirne; A Shingler (R Bernardo 56), W Boyde, J Davies (M Allen 50)
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
Sunday Indo Sport