Saturday 23 March 2019

Double joy for Cullen's men as Leinster take Pro14 silverware

BLUE DAY: Isa Nacewa and Luke McGrath of Leinster celebrate after their Guinness Pro14 Final victory over Scarlets. Picture: Sportsfile
BLUE DAY: Isa Nacewa and Luke McGrath of Leinster celebrate after their Guinness Pro14 Final victory over Scarlets. Picture: Sportsfile

Alan O'Keeffe and Ruaidhri O'Connor

It was joy on the double for Leinster's rugby heroes last night as they added the Guinness Pro14 crown to their European title.

They put reigning champions Scarlets to the sword in a thrilling final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Johnny Sexton was the toast of the boys in blue as Leinster did a repeat job on the Scarlets, having already proven superior to them in the Champions Cup semi-final.

The Welshmen were denied a repeat of their victory over Munster in last year's final at the Aviva as the men of Leinster overcame them in a thrilling 40-32 victory.

Leo Cullen's side ran in a fantastic five tries during the game.

Leinster absolutely dominated in the first 30 minutes with 80pc of the possession.

Sexton went on to kick 13 points to earn the accolade of Man of the Match.

Leinster have now become the first Celtic team to win the domestic and European Cup titles in the same season - an enviable achievement their 2011 and 2012 predecessors failed to accomplish.

The Irish fans poured out onto Lansdowne Road jubilant following their well-earned victory.

Sexton was outstanding and he opened the scoring before a crowd of 46,092 fans, a record attendance for a Pro14 final.

A superb display by lock Devin Toner laid the foundations for Leinster to outclass Scarlets, capping a fine season with another trophy after their big win in Bilbao just a fortnight ago.

With Leinster outscoring the Welsh side by three penalties to two in the early stages, Toner bulldozed over for the first try on the half-hour mark to put his side 14-6 up, with Johnny Sexton missing the conversion.

Scarlets struck back almost immediately, exploiting some sloppiness in defence to allow Johnny McNicholl to dive over for a try and close the gap to 14-11 - but again, the conversion was missed.

Toner was instrumental in the Irish provincial side's second try before the break, snagging a line-out with one hand for Luke McGrath and Sexton to set up James Lowe to go over in the corner.

Sexton adding the conversion to leave his side leading by 10 at the break - and after his superb free kick into the corner early in the second, Toner urged his men on again and Sean Cronin touched down after a rolling maul form the resulting line-out.

Jordan Larmour piled on the misery for Scarlets with a superb solo effort, collecting the ball while charging towards his own goal before hammering it up the field and winning the chase to touch down for a 22-point lead.

McNicholl claimed his second for Scarlets with an acrobatic dive to reduce the deficit to 15 - but minutes later Leinster broke the line again and Jack Conan swan-dived across the line to touch down beneath the posts.

Scarlets substitute Werner Krueger added a late consolation try and McNicholl then completed his hat-trick late on as the deficit was cut to 40-32. But to no avail. Leinster had too much power and claimed the Pro14 crown.

Leinster fans celebrated long into the night. It has proved to be a superb ending for Irish rugby, capping a year when we as a nation also claimed the Grand Slam.

Sunday Independent

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