Kearney injury sours Leinster's narrow victory
Leinster19 Scarlets 15
Leinster ended league leaders Scarlets' six-game unbeaten start to the season at the RDS last night but it came at a cost as they lost Rob Kearney after just 23 minutes with a hamstring injury.
Leo Cullen will now be sweating over his full-back's fitness before Wasps arrive in Dublin tomorrow week for their Champions Cup meeting.
It was far from a perfect performance from Leinster but they found a way to grind out the kind of victory that they so often failed to manage last season.
A second-half Mike Ross try proved crucial as Leinster were unable to pull clear of an impressive Scarlets outfit.
The Welsh side set out their stall early by kicking a penalty to the corner and they were rewarded with the opening try inside five minutes.
Dominic Ryan appeared to slap Rob Evans at a ruck and from the resulting penalty that was kicked to the corner, Hadleigh Parkes powered his way over under the posts. Dan Jones converted for a 7-0 lead.
Referee Leighton Hodges' whistle was unfortunately a regular sound and he had no hesitation in sin-binning Jake Ball for pulling down a Leinster maul shortly after.
Ian Madigan fired over the penalty to get his side on the board and the out-half repeated the trick 10 minutes later to cut the deficit to a single point before Ball returned to the fray.
Kearney's substitution seemed to cause some confusion in Leinster's defensive system and Scarlets took full of advantage.
John Barclay burst through a gaping hole wide on the left before offloading to the onrushing Gareth Owen who raced clear to score the visitors' second try just before the half-hour mark.
In a bizarre six-minute spell, Hodges awarded four penalties - the first of which Madigan fired over from just inside the Scarlets' half.
Jones had a chance to extend Scarlets' lead on the stroke of half time but he was wide with a penalty attempt from the halfway line as they had to settle for a six-point advantage (9-15) at the interval.
If it was the Welsh side who started the game with more vigour then it was the hosts who did the same after the restart.
Madigan declined the three points on offer and instead went to the corner. Leinster patiently went through the phases before Ross popped up as the most unlikely try scorer.
It was just the 35-year-old's second try in 121 games for Leinster and it suitably drew the loudest roar of the evening from the home crowd. That was of course until the introduction of Johnny Sexton.
Madigan, who was often guilty of trying to force the issue too much, switched to inside centre upon Sexton's arrival.
Sexton's first involvement was to miss touch with a penalty and Madigan remained on the kicking duties and kicked Leinster into a 19-15 lead as the clocked ticked past the hour.
Sexton thought he had marked his return to the RDS with a 72nd-minute try after a trademark loop but the referee correctly ruled that Noel Reid had caused an obstruction in the build-up and the crowd's joy was short-lived.
Leinster had to withstand a late charge by Scarlets but they had enough experience still on the pitch to see out what could prove to be a crucial victory.
Leinster - R Kearney (B Te'o 23) (J Sexton 53); Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, N Reid, C Kelleher; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy (J McGrath 51), J Tracy (B Byrne 66), M Ross (M Moore 51); D Toner, T Denton (H Triggs 60); D Ryan (D Leavy 76), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt).
Scarlets - A Thomas (M Collins 60); T Williams, G Owen, H Parkes, M Tagicakibau (H Robinson 56); D Jones, G Davies (A Davies 76); R Evans (D Evans 71), E Phillips (K Owens 62), P Edwards; J Ball (T Price 62), L Rawlins (M Paulino 62); A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay (capt).
REF - L Hodges (WRU)