Wednesday 17 October 2018

Awesome Leinster obliterate the Scarlets to book their place in Champions Cup decider

Leinster 38 Scarlets 16

Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates after scoring his side's fifth try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final match between Leinster Rugby and Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates after scoring his side's fifth try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final match between Leinster Rugby and Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

EUROPE'S form side maintained their relentless charge towards a fourth crown, Leinster securing their May final slot by totting up the second highest points total in the competition's history.

At times they were simply mesmerising, mostly mesmerically simple as they dominated Scarlets ine very facet of play, blowing opponents off the ball at every tackle and playing the game entirely on their own merits.

And their merits are substantial.

Three converted first-half tries from James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden – all converted by Jonathan Sexton who also added a penalty – garlanded a stunning opening 40-minute display in which they showcased their complete set of rugby skills.

Their excellence, primarily built on set-piece and ferocious work in the tight, but capable of switching to scintillating phased play was punctuated only briefly by flashes of Scarlets resistance, nine points from Leigh Halfpenny's boot leaving them clinging on to the home side's coat-tails, 24-9, at tea-time.

They completely let go after that; Scott Fardy and Jonathan Sexton – breaching 600 competition points in the process – adding further tries.

They even had the luxury of withdrawing Sexton, who bore a bandaged bicep after taking a heavy dint from Dan Jones before half-time, with fully 20 minutes remaining, after he had scored his try while the majority of the 48,455 danced in the sunshine.

A year on from the embarrassing Pro14 semi-final defeat, this was revenge served cold but on a blistering hot day with a performance to match the sizzling temperatures.

The early signs hinted at a contest amongst equals.

In the early moments, that man Tadhg Beirne effected his 31st turnover of the European campaign, stifling an early Leinster maul, and when Scott Fardy struck Steff Evans with a high shot, Leigh Halfpenny punished Leinster with an accurate one from the tee, a hefty 45 metres shunt from the left on the ten-metre line.

Just six minutes in and the home team had something to ponder. It didn't take them long to answer the question; four minutes in fact.

Scott Fardy's blockdown on Gareth Davies built the pressure; his lineout take increased it as Leinster launched a blistering first phase move which propelled fergus McFadden for the corner.

He couldn't make it but the second phase of arriving Leinster bodies completed the job, James Ryan eventually carried over the line despite referee Romain Poite briefly conjecturing whether he had been held in a despairing tackle. 7-3.

Leinster heightened the tempo and launched a furious three-minute spell, with Robbie Henshaw confirming his well-being after shoulder surgery with some excellent distribution and bullocking running.

Scarlets were shell-shocked but emerged from the siege with the concession – Cian Healy knockeingon with the try-line at his mercy - of just three points, Sexton adding to his earlier conversion with a 19th minute penalty.

But there was only one team in it; 10-3 now.

Scarlets needed the ball; Fergus McFadden's spilled restart handed it to them and a penalised scrum also added three points to a scoreboard which they would have been far more satisfied with, 6-10 in the 22nd minute.

Back came Leinster; Sexton launching a high kick into the Havelock Square end sunlight to McFadden's corner; forcing Gareth Davies to knock on.

Cian Healy confirmed his superiority over Samson Lee and earned a penalty; Leinster almost got over the line from the free play, McFadden hitting up the middle but then Fardy was held up so the home side understandably opted to scrum again.

Remarkably – or maybe not – Leinster mimicked the previous play and this time they got the desired result via Cian Healy; 17-6 now and decisively in charge.

Scarlets are a quality side though and from their first sustained passage of football, a penalty concession allowed Halfpenny to make it 17-9 in the 35th minute as the contest remained classically poised.

Scarlets exposed Leinster out wide but Aaron Shingler knocked on as his side created a three-on-two; a subsequent penalty gave Leinster a final attacking opportunity of the half; a score now could seal the deal.

With Sexton and Cian Healy struggling, they needed it and McFadden this time managed to make the corner, thanks to a wonderful pass from Garry Ringrose off his left after Leinster's ferocious tight pummelling had exposed the cover.

Steff Evans' cynical keen drop on the try-scorer went unpunished but Sexton added the extras nonetheless; his boot was in perfect working order even if his right bicep now sported a spanking bandage after a thunderous clash with Dan Jones.

A fifteen point lead – 24-9 at the break - particularly when held by Europe's form team, was irretrievable.

Sadly, McFadden didn't return but his replacement, Jordan Larmour, was immediately into the action, forcing Evans over his goal-line from as Sexton opted for a high kick from a penalty advantage.

Another scrum beckoned but Scarlets, somehow, emerged from the onslaught with their line intact, Munster-bound Beirne once again with a canny turnover after Tadhg Furlong thought he had almost added a fourth try.

Scarlets were still struggling to find their game; one example, a shocking Gareth Davies box-kick, with a back-line awaiting him, which ultimately saw his side concede a penalty.

Leinster were content to kick possession back to the Welsh side, attempting to cage them them into their own 22 and force mistakes; it was their game to dictate now.

The tactical shift produced its inevitable reward when larmour ripped Rhys Patchell and, after Sexton's run, a fine run from Healy and then James Ryan's sensational pop pass allowed Fardy to plough over for the fourth try.

With half an hour remaining, Leinster were a seemingly preposterous 31-9 and so out of sight they may as well have already checked in to their Bilbao hotel.

Sexton added another try to gild the lily in the 58th minute; cometh the hour, the man departed. Such a luxury.

Tadhg Beirne added a consolation for Scarlets. He may have been the one that got away from Leinster. But this was a day when everything got away from his side.

Leinster were simply a class apart and, surely, champions in waiting.

 

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden (J Larmour HT), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa; J Sexton capt (J Carbery 61), J Gibson-Park; C Healy (J McGrath 54), S Cronin (J Tracy 58), T Furlong (A Porter 61), D Toner, J Ryan, S Fardy, D Leavy (J Conan 67), J Murphy.

Scarlets: R Patchell; L Halfpenny, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; D Jones, G Davies, R Evans, K Owens capt (D Evans 54), S Lee (W Kruger 52), T Beirne, D Bulbring (L Rawlins 55), A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.

Referee: R Poite (France).

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