Heineken Cup: Leinster do just about enough to win but Connacht unable to stop Quins
DEFENDING champions Leinster survived a couple of second-half scares as Jonathan Sexton kicked them to victory at Scarlets this afternoon.
Joe Schmidt's team went to the top of Heineken Cup Pool Five with a solid 13-20 win at Parc y Scarlets.
However, Connacht lost to Harlequins 22-30 despite a brave effort in Pool Three at the Sportsground.
Leinster's Isa Nacewa scored the visitors' only try while outhalf Sexton supplied 15 points with the boot.
The Scarlets, who came away with a losing bonus point, scored a try through Gareth Maule and two penalties and a conversion from Rhys Priestland.
It gave Leinster their 17th successive victory in the tournament and coach Schmidt's 17th win from 19 Heineken Cup games.
Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy returned as Leinster made two changes from the Exeter clash - Sean Cronin coming in at hooker and Fergus McFadden switching from centre to wing.
The Scarlets were without Wales centre Jonathan Davies who had a groin injury but in-form wing Andy Fenby returned.
Maule replaced Davies to partner Scott Williams in midfield while full-back Liam Williams and flanker Aaron Shingler recovered from knocks sustained in the 49-16 defeat in Clermont Auvergne.
Leinster were given a great start with Sexton kicking a second minute penalty goal from the 22 after the Scarlets killed the ball at a ruck. It took Sexton past 350 points for the tournament.
The Welsh side were moving the ball intelligently behind but gave away another penalty as Sexton was able to kick the Irish side into the home 22.
Leinster gained another penalty from which they built territory and scored a try through Nacewa, who collected a cross-kick from Sexton despite having George North bearing down on him.
Sexton missed with the conversion but then his opposite number Priestland was wayward with a long-range penalty on 16 minutes.
And Sexton was back on target as the defending champions took an 11-0 lead with a penalty after the Scarlets had been caught offside.
The Scarlets just could not cope with Leinster's streetwise approach at the breakdown and despite a later surge towards the line the Welsh side ended the first half pointless.
The Scarlets had the chance to get on the scoreboard within two minutes of the restart but Priestland was well short with a 45-metre effort.
But it proved to be a double whammy for the home side as a minute later Sexton put over an opportunist drop-goal from fully 40 metres.
The Scarlets finally broke their duck in the 48th minute with Priestland kicking a penalty after Leinster had failed to release in the tackle.
To the delight of the home fans, Sexton was off target with his own penalty three minutes later.
But the home fans were sent into raptures when a long pass from Priestland sent Gareth Maule on an outside break to the right corner leaving O'Driscoll in his wake. Priestland converted the try as Scarlets closed the gap to four points.
That was extended to seven as Sexton eased some of the second half pressure that had been building on Leinster with his third penalty.
Sexton and Priestland swapped penalties as Leinster led 20-13 with five minutes remaining, but they ended the match down to 14 men with full-back Ian Madigan in the sin-bin for taking opposite number Williams in the air.
Sexton was wayward with a 79th-minute penalty, which would have brought the Scarlets a bonus point had the kick gone over the posts.
In the other game with Irish interest, two tries from Danny Care set Harlequins on their way to a deserved victory over Connacht at the Sportsground.
Eric Elwood's men ruined Quins' hopes of reaching the Heineken Cup knockout stages last January with a nail-biting 9-8 defeat at the Galway venue.
Nine months on, both sides threw off the shackles to share out 43 points in a free-flowing first half full of enterprising rugby.
Dan Parks converted David McSharry's seventh-minute try and added four penalties to move the hosts 19-9 ahead.
But Quins grabbed 15 points in the closing 11 minutes before the break, that profitable spell being crowned by Care's two shrewdly-taken tries.
Ben Botica, an excellent replacement for Nick Evans against Biarritz in the opening round, landed an injury-time penalty to complete a 24-19 turnaround by the interval.
Botica turned in another dazzling place-kicking display with a 20-point haul, as two further three-pointers from him killed off Connacht's doughty challenge.
The men from the West had settled quickly with a fine touchfinder from Parks and a lineout steal from Mike McCarthy, but the visitors were the ones to show the early adventure.
Sam Smith and Mike Brown danced into the Connacht half, Care's backhanded pass released Maurie Fa'asavalu and the result was a first penalty success from Botica.
Connacht hit back within two minutes, George Naoupu taking a quick tap and Parks' flat pass sent McSharry motoring through a gap between Jordan Turner-Hall and Matt Hopper and in behind the posts.
Parks' simple conversion was cancelled out by Botica's second three-pointer, following some more quick-witted attacking from Quins.
The English champions were looking the more potent side, but the wind-assisted Parks punched off a terrific 52-metre penalty to make it 10-6.
This feisty encounter was turning into a fascinating duel between the out-halves as tournament newcomer Botica answered back in the 16th minute.
Connacht continued to make a flurry of tackles, their industry up front setting up a 45-metre penalty that Parks brilliantly bent through the posts.
Quins blundered as Turner-Hall got isolated in a promising position and then after a smashing break from Kieran Marmion, the visitors infringed at a ruck in front of their posts as Parks stretched the margin to seven points.
The former Scotland international then nudged over his third penalty on the trot, set up by Fetu'u Vainikolo's midfield snipe and further input from John Muldoon and McCarthy.
But the hosts were rocked by the concession of a try on the half hour mark as man-of-the-match Care broke away from a scrum and evaded Muldoon's grasp on the way to the line.
The unconverted effort spurred Conor O'Shea's side on and Care nabbed his second seven minutes later, dummying to his right from a close-in ruck and wriggling in past Muldoon again.
Botica converted this time and his penalty in added time left Connacht five adrift at the break, with the tide turning sharply against them.
McCarthy muscled forward to create the opening for Parks' fifth penalty of the night as the tempo dropped briefly in the third quarter.
Botica maintained his high standards from the kicking tee with a sure-footed 50-metre strike, and he split the posts from closer in after Adrian Flavin infringed.
Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter were to the fore as Quins tightened their grip on the game in the closing stages, their second pool win pushing them four points clear of Biarritz at the top of Pool 3.