Monday 24 July 2017

Sexton hero and villain

Scarlets 17 Leinster 17

Jonathan Sexton came back from the dead to snatch an unlikely draw at Parc Y Scarlets, yet blundered a match-winning opportunity to win it at the final whistle.

Ireland out-half Sexton was having a disastrous night with the boot after missing a possible 10 points, but with five minutes to go, he stepped up to slot a crucial conversion that earned Joe Schmidt's men a draw.

However, in a further twist, Sexton knocked on a simple pass as he lined up an injury-time drop-goal that would have snatched a win.

Late tries from Fergus McFadden and Shane Horgan had fired Leinster back into the game after they looked dead and buried and Sexton put his nerves aside to clinch a hard-fought draw.


The men in blue were left bitterly disappointed after their narrow loss against the Ospreys the previous week -- with a penalty try proving decisive.

Despite dominating large periods of that game, they still came away on the wrong end of the result.

And although Leinster took great pride in their steely defence last week, all the talk in the camp leading into this crunch fixture had been the need to be clinical in the final stages of the game.

And they certainly learnt their lessons from the Liberty Stadium loss after grabbing an unanswered 12 points in the final 10 minutes of this game.

Schmidt's side, although disappointed at not stealing a victory, will be delighted with the character they showed to claw their way back into the game.

With the first of crunch back-to-back Heineken Cup encounters against the coach's old team Clermont Auvergne up next weekend, Leinster will be able to take great confidence from the draw and the clinical edge they showed at the finish.

The Scarlets opened the scoring after just three minutes when Rhys Priestland dissected the posts. But it was Leinster who grabbed the first try.

With the wind and rain swirling around Parc Y Scarlets, Sexton sent a perfectly weighted cross-kick into the right-hand corner. With a brilliant piece of skill considering the conditions, Horgan flicked the ball inside and although it narrowly missed Isa Nacewa, it landed in the hands of Eoin O'Malley, who slid over to put Leinster in the lead.

Priestland landed a second penalty after 26 minutes to put the Scarlets back in the lead. A mass brawl shortly after the half-hour mark led to referee Nigel Owens speaking to both sides, but they escaped without punishment.

And Priestland finished the half how he started it and nudged the hosts further into the lead shortly after 35 minutes to leave Leinster 9-5 in arrears at the interval.

Sexton had the opportunity to cut the deficit to just one point after 51 minutes, but he drilled his kick wide and things got worse for Leinster when Rhys Ruddock was sent to the sin-bin after 53 minutes.

Fired up in front of the Welsh crowd, Ruddock came flying in at the side of the ruck, cleaning out the Scarlets defender.

Priestland needed no second invite and succeeded where Sexton failed minutes earlier by slotting a penalty to give the Scarlets a 17-5 lead.

With the game looking like a foregone conclusion McFadden dragged Leinster back into contention after coming in off his wing and dancing through the Scarlets defence.

And with five minutes to go, Horgan crossed after a brilliant loop around by Sexton to create the overlap. The out-half then held his nerve to slot over the conversion.

Both sides had the opportunity to snatch a win at the death with the best chance falling to Sexton.

But minutes after his heroics, Sexton became the villain again. The Leinster pack put him in a match-winning position, but he spilt a perfectly good pass, making a hash of an opportunity that would have capped an astonishing comeback.

Scarlets - D Newton (S Jones 55); M Stoddart,G Maule, R King, J Aluwa; R Priestland (S Williams 67), T Knoyle (M Roberts 65); P John (R Jones 73), K Owens (M Rees 55), P Edwards (D Manu 29, P John 78), D Welch, D Day, J Turnbull, J Edwards (R McCusker 52), D Lyons (capt, B Morgan 66)

Leinster - I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross (C Newland 65), L Cullen (capt, N Hines 52), D Toner, R Ruddock, D Ryan (S Jennings 52), S O'Brien.

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

Irish Independent

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