Leinster survived bitter cold – coloured by the odd light snowfall – and a spirited Scarlets side at the RDS last night to join Ulster and Glasgow in a breakaway group at the top of the Pro 12.
Matches at this time of year run the risk of a drastic drop in quality, given the absence of Six Nations players. This was a decent enough contest in the circumstances, with a bonus point tacked on in the last play of the game.
For Ian Madigan, who came on for the second half, it was another opportunity to perform in front of a crowd who reckoned he should be in Murrayfield this afternoon. His running game was outstanding; his kicking out of hand and off the tee less so. The downside didn't have any material effect on the outcome.
He wasn't the only enthusiastic runner on the night. In a different race but every bit as effective was loosehead Jack McGrath. His carrying was top-class, though it evidently escaped the home fans who barely mustered a ripple of applause when he went off in the second half.
Conceivably, Leinster could have been almost out of sight at half time. The kicking duties were shared between Andrew Goodman and Noel Reid, Reid took a handy one and missed when the Kiwi was being treated, and the overall return was a poor two from six.
Given the feistiness of the Scarlets – the tackling of full-back Aled Thomas, with his swinging arm, could be classed as plain illegal – this was an issue for the home team. They had enjoyed virtually all of the territory and possession, and asked questions of the visitors only to have the bulk of them answered easily enough.
Not surprisingly then, Leinster's only try of the period came from a more direct source. It was Fionn Carr who fielded a kick on his 10 metre mark after 33 minutes, and counter-attacked with the excellent Dave Kearney and Andrew Conway for Goodman to finish, speedbumping Owen Williams with 10 to go for a fine try.
That put Leinster 11-0 ahead, after Goodman had kicked two penalties in the opening half hour, but they conceded a try virtually on the restart when Andy Fenby finished a fine move started by Nick Reynolds claiming the drop-off.
So 11-5 was the lead Leinster carried into the second half and they had to go upstairs twice on try referrals before getting the green light for man of the match Aaron Dundon, on 48 minutes. Shane Jennings seemed sure to have scored the first one but the cameras didn't endorse it. Jordi Murphy put the issue to bed on 70 minutes with a good try after direct and aggressive approach work from the Leinster forwards, again featuring McGrath. The bonus was well deserved, and came in the corner for John Cooney with literally seconds left on the clock. The result leaves them seven points ahead of the Ospreys in fourth place.
Scorers – Leinster: A Dundon, J Murphy, J Cooney tries; A Goodman try, 2 pens, I Madigan 3 cons. Scarlets: A Fenby try.
Leinster: D Kearney; A Conway, E O'Malley, A Goodman, F Carr (F McFadden 48); N Reid (I Madigan h-t) I Boss (J Cooney 63); J McGrath (J O'Connell 72), A Dundon (T Sexton 63), M Bent (J Hagan 63); L Cullen (capt), B Marshall (M Flanagan 57); D Ryan (R Ruddock 63), J Murphy, S Jennings.
Scarlets: A Thomas (D Ford 74); N Reynolds (K Phillips 74), G Maule, A Warren, A Fenby; O Williams, A Davies (G Davies 58); P John (R Jones 64), E Phillips (M Rees 47), J Adriaanse (S Lee 47); G Earle (yc 17-27; S Timane 47)), J Snyman; A Shingler (J Ball 64), R McCusker (capt), J Turnbull.
Referee: M Mitrea (Ita)