14-man Scarlets advance to the Pro 12 final on a horrible night for Leinster
There are two ways to look at the task of playing Leinster away in a Guinness PRO 12 semifinal: either it’s a challenge that motivates you or one that melts your head, for not only were they 100 per cent from their six previous semifinals in this competition but never has the away side left with a smile on their face from the penultimate game. Safe to say Scarlets were up for it.
And at the end of a pulsating 80 minutes, before a crowd of 15,861 at the RDS, they left with the spoils. Literally they turned over the favourites, forcing Leinster into surrendering 22 balls with the outstanding Tadhg Beirne stealing the last.
If it was a depressing experience for Leinster then it was also a night to cause Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt some concern. Jack McGrath went off with an arm injury after just 10 minutes. He was followed by another Lion, Tadhg Furlong, midway through the second half but that appeared to be cramp."Jack got a whack on his arm - he may need an x ray," Leo Cullen said afterwards. "Tadhg had cramp." Garry Ringrose also went off late in the day with a knee injury - it remains to be seen if that has implications for Ireland's tour of US and Japan next month.
As the top turnover side in the league, Wayne Pivac’s side were well documented coming into this contest. So fast and loose was a state of affairs that appealed to them. For the guts of 40 minutes they couldn’t have scripted things any better. And it continued after the break.
Their hard-press defence constantly sent Leinster attackers back inside into red shirted tacklers. And when the game broke up, they were in their element.
Leinster needed a good start to set the tone, but when Isa Nacewa was called back having touched down in the corner after just four minutes – the final pass from Johnny Sexton was forward – the visitors settled.
And so comfortable were they that by the half hour mark they were 3-1 ahead on tries and 21-10 to the good on the scoreboard.
Moreover Leinster had been forced into two changes inside 23 minutes, with Luke McGrath following his namesake off the field – he was concussed having been clobbered after a run that looked like yielding a try – but didn’t.
The only things that went right for the home team were Garry Ringrose’s try on 23 minutes, and then the same player was involved as the victim in that tip tackle that saw Evans red carded just before the break.
Otherwise it had been all Scarlets. Adam Byrne opened the door for Evans on nine minutes, and even when Ringrose got over soon after a Johnny Sexton penalty - he had a poor game - to give Leinster the lead it was an advantage that lasted roughly a minute: Gareth Davies and Adam Shingler combined perfectly to send the flanker over by the posts.
The try for Davies was the pick of the three: lovely interplay and accurate passing to send the scrum-half over, with Rhys Patchell’s third conversion from as many attempts putting the home side in trouble.
But it was Davies who needlessly impeded Sexton minutes later as the outhalf was en route to a drop out – that let Leinster exit on their terms, and get the territory from which Evans dumped Ringrose.
So 10-21 at half-time, but with an extra man, the home side needed to be a lot more accurate – and patient – after the break. Still they struggled. By 55 minutes their turnovers conceded had climbed to 14 – crazy stuff – and they went through another few horrors before Jack Conan got over after they took the ball up twice close to the breakdown in the Welsh 22. Incredibly Nacewa missed the conversion, leaving Leinster six points behind.
That didn’t last too long though: despite having a dominant scrum, against seven men, Cian Healy was penalised on 70 minutes which Liam Williams goaled for a 24-15 lead to Scarlets. He knocked over another one in the last minute much to the delight of their band of fans. They had given it loads from start to finish – and got their reward.
Leinster: J Carbery; A Byrne, G Ringrose (Z Kirchner 74), R Henshaw, I Nacewa; J Sexton (R Byrne 80), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 23); J McGrath (C Healy 10), J Tracy (R Strauss 71), T Furlong (M Bent 61), R Molony, H Triggs (D Toner 51), R Ruddock (D Leavy 47, HIA), J Conan, J van der Flier
Scarlets: J McNichol; L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, S Evans (rc 38); R Patchell (H Parkes 61), G Davies (J Evans 51); R Evans (W Jones 57), R Elias (E Phillips 71), S Lee (V Kruger 65), L Rawlins (D Bulbring 65), T Beirne, A Shingler, J Barclay (capt) (W Boyde 63), J Davies (DTH van der Merwe 80)
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)