Sunday 15 September 2019

Johnny Sexton stars as Leinster complete double with victory over Scarlets in Dublin

Leinster 40 Scarlets 32

Sean Cronin of Leinster celebrates with team-mates, from left, Tadhg Furlong, Jordan Larmour, Devin Toner and Jack Conan
Sean Cronin of Leinster celebrates with team-mates, from left, Tadhg Furlong, Jordan Larmour, Devin Toner and Jack Conan
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

This double was never in jeopardy. Leinster are celebrating their greatest season after adding the Guinness PRO14 to their European title with this comprehensive win over the reigning champions.

Johnny Sexton was superb as the boys in blue repeated their Champions Cup semi-final superiority over the Scarlets who will be thankful that the summer break means they won’t be back in Dublin for a while. The margin was narrower this time around, but late tries couldn't mask the gap between the two teams.

Last season, the Welsh were the ones celebrating at the Aviva Stadium as they devastated Munster, but they couldn’t get their attacking game going a year on as Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster once again got their game plan spot on and the all-Irish pack dominated the game.

In front of 46,092 fans, a record Guinness PRO14 final crowd, they turned on the style to manage something no team has done before in this competition.

Like the previous fixture, their tight five absolutely monstered their visitors; squeezing them until they eventually coughed up five tries.

Behind a dominant pack, Sexton was outstanding and he opened the scoring after a hectic start, punishing an offence at the ruck by a Scarlets player.

Leigh Halfpenny hit back almost instantly after Devin Toner failed to gather the restart and Tadhg Furlong tugged Rob Evans’ shirt as he attempted to play the ball.

The Lion put his side in front from the tee when James Ryan failed to retreat from a Rob Kearney kick, but his side found themselves under serious pressure after Rob Kearney claimed Sexton’s up and under and Leinster went through a succession of hard carries that got them to within 5m of the Scarlets line.

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They couldn’t get over the line, but ultimately forced a ruck penalty and Sexton made it 6-6.

Leinster lost their captain Isa Nacewa after just 20 minutes and he looked crest-fallen as the blue swathes of the Aviva Stadium rose to acclaim his final game.

Sexton squeezed a kick over the bar, before Leinster putt he squeeze on Scarlets with a 23 phase series of pressure rugby that started with a huge Jack Conan carry off the base of a scrum, was carried on by Furlong and culminated in Devin Toner burrowing over from close range.

Sexton shanked the conversion and the Scarlets hit back within minutes of the restart, when, after a patient build-up, New Zealand winger Johnny McNicholl pounced on a loose ball after Steff Evans was stopped short to touch down.

Halfpenny missed the conversion to leave the margin at three points and he made a strong tackle to deny James Lowe on the stroke of half-time after the winger caught Sexton’s cross-kick in space.

Unfortunately for the Welsh side, they gave up another ruck penalty and despite the hooter having long sounded, Sexton went to the corner.

Leinster’s maul was hauled down by the men in red and the out-half again hit the line.

This time, the maul was stopped fairly and squarely but Luke McGrath peeled off down the blindside and hit Sexton whose quick transfer to Lowe put him in the corner.

The out-half then banged over the touchline conversion to make it 21-11 at the break.

Leinster came out of the traps after the break determined to put the contest beyond doubt and the Scarlets were struggling to live with their relentless energy.

Sexton turned down another kickable penalty to go for a scrum, but, after Conan surged towards the line, James Ryan knocked on in contact and the Welsh side managed to get themselves out of their ’22.

Centre Scott Williams was lucky to escape further punishment when he caught Sexton with a high tackle, but after receiving treatment the out-half continued and punished the Welsh international by finding a superb touch.

And the forwards took their lead from the No 10, safely taking the ball down and forming a solid maul before Cronin peeled off and scored in the corner.

Sexton again nailed the conversion and the party got into full swing when Jordan Larmour pulled off an outrageous pick-up at full speed to collect his own kick and score.

McNicholl got over in the corner to reduce the deficit for Scarlets, finishing spectacularly under pressure from Garry Ringrose.

It was only to be brief respite as Joey Carbery stood Hadleigh Parkes up, drew Halfpenny and found Luke McGrath who did the same to Gareth Davies to send Conan under the posts.

Carbery converted and, while Scarlets managed a third try through Werner Kruger and McNicholl completed his hat-trick to put some gloss on the scoreboard the contest was long over.

LEINSTER – R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (capt) (R O’Loughlin 19), J Lowe; J Sexton (J Carbery 64), L McGrath; C Healy (J McGrath 51), S Cronin (J Tracy 60),T Furlong (A Porter 60); D Toner, J Ryan; R Ruddock (S Fardy 56), D Leavy (J Murphy 67), J Conan.

SCARLETS -  L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans (T Prydie 72); R Patchell (D Jones 73), G Davies (J Evans 72); R Evans, K Owens (capt) (R Elias 73), S Lee (W Kruger 56); L Rawlins, S Cummins; A Shingler (W Boyd 39) , J Davies, T Beirne.

Ref – S Berry (South Africa)

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