Leinster 50 Scarlets 15
The Leinster pack can legitimately claim ownership of this victory. Seven tries and five try-scorers (all forwards), best encapsulated where a fourth victory started and finished. That’s not to say that the backs didn’t contribute; as the game broke open late-on, they chipped in with some searing line-breaks but the pack deserve the kudos.
Dominant in the scrum, they emphatically outmuscled the visitors, often from close range. Once they got the hang of using footwork to win the collisions, they cut the Scarlets open time and again. It could have been a great deal worse for the visitors on the scoreboard but not too many in the crowd of 14,055 will grumble.
There were times when their handling and decision-making was a little forced but for the most part, there was enough to admire in the performance. The tempo and width were good and when they got into the Scarlets 22 most of the time they came away with points.
The home side started slowly and a penalty try in first half injury time put a bit of a sheen on a first half performance that was fitful. The Scarlets produced one or two moments of enterprising back play but dominated up front they were always going to be second best.
The Leinster pack was largely excellent, Garry Ringrose the pick of the backline, while the bench provided the desired impact, Ryan Baird’s athleticism and Dan Sheehan’s brace of tries providing the headlines.
After last week’s shellacking, the Scarlets would have been keen for a positive start to the match and they managed it as the home side lost a couple of aerial duels and when man of the match Ciarán Frawley was pinged for not rolling away at a ruck on the Leinster 22; Sam Costelow kicked the resultant penalty.
Johnny Sexton’s chip and chase was the catalyst for Leinster’s response on seven minutes, the Leinster captain posting a penalty after the visitors transgressed at a ruck and his boot almost provided a conduit to the game’s first try, a cross-kick towards Caelan Doris was just undercooked, allowing Ryan Conbeer to get his fingertips there first and crucially divert the flight path.
It was the visitors that registered the first try, a well-worked blindside move that owed hugely to a lovely offload from Scarlets centre Johnny Williams out of the tackle and the fact that James Lowe bit in unnecessarily. Fullback Ioan Nicholas timed his pass perfectly to allow McNicholl scoot over in the corner.
Leinster might have snatched an equalising try when Nicholas made a hash of a cross-kick for which he should have been odds-on favourite. Jordan Larmour did well to force the Scarlets fullback to lose the ball but following a TMO review Hugo Keenan, hunting the bouncing ball, was adjudged not to have grounded it correctly in the in-goal area.
The Scarlets respite was short-lived. A brilliant 40 metre surge from Jack Conan was the most telling part of the preamble to a try from hooker Rónan Kelleher, following a well-crafted lineout drive. A second soon followed, this time Jamison Gibson-Park’s dancing feet close to the Scarlets line, allowing the outstanding Andrew Porter to power over from close range.
Sexton converted the latter to give the home side a 15-8 lead after 29 minutes. Leinster’s enterprise could not be faulted but a lack of accuracy prevented them from extending that advantage on a more regular basis. They did finish the half with another scoring salvo.
The Scarlets conceded two scrum penalties five metres from their line and, from a third, referee Marius van der Westhuizen, having issued a collective warning to the visitors, walked under the posts to signal a penalty try. Leinster’s 22-8 lead was a fair reflection of their dominance.
Once Porter, Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong and Conan started to win the collisions on the gainline - Garry Ringrose was excellent in beating the first tackle time and again - the home side had the platform they needed to inject pace and width that allowed them to corral the Scarlets in their 22 for large periods of the half.
Doris grabbed the bonus point try five minutes after the restart which owed to a touch of good fortune initially as the ball pinballed around until Kelleher took control, surging 20 metres before passing inside to his teammate to touch down. Frawley kicked the conversion but was forced off from the restart following a clash of heads with Scarlets scrumhalf Gareth Davies. He was replaced by Tommy O’Brien but later returned.
The Scarlets responded with a try from flanker Tomas Lezana, converted by Dan Jones on 49 minutes, but Leinster’s power game was soon in evidence once again, first earning a scrum penalty with the pack collaborating again soon after to shunt replacement prop Cian Healy over the line.
Dan Sheehan crossed for Leinster’s sixth and seventh tries, the first another example of their physical superiority. A lineout maul enabled the replacement hooker to force his way over from close range; the second came from a Byrne cross-kick after excellent work by Larmour and Ringrose in which Sheehan re-gathered the breaking ball to dot down.
Scoring sequence – 2 mins: Costelow penalty, 0-3; 7: Sexton penalty, 3-3; 17: McNicholl try, 3-8; 23: Kelleher try, 8-8; 28: Porter, Sexton conversion, 15-8; 40 (+3) penalty try, 22-8. Half-time: 22-8. 45: Doris try, Frawley conversion, 29-8; 49: Lezana try, Jones conversion, 29-15; 61: Healy try, Byrne conversion, 36-15; 69: Sheehan try, Byrne conversion, 43-15; 77: Sheehan try, Byrne conversion, 50-15.
Leinster: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, J Ryan; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan. Replacements: T O'Brien for Frawley 47-57 (HIA) and 65 mins; R Byrne for Sexton 50 mins; L McGrath for Gibson-Park 56 mins; D Sheehan for Kelleher 56 mins; C Healy for Porter 56 mins; M Ala'alatoa for Furlong 56 mins; R Baird for Molony 60 mins; Moloney for Ryan (HIA) 68 mins; R Ruddock for Doris 69 mins.
Scarlets: I Nicholas; J McNicholl, J Davies (capt), J Williams, R Conbeer; S Costelow, G Davies; W Jones, K Owens, WG John; S Lousi, L Ashley; A Shingler, T Lezana, B Thomson. Replacements: T Rogers for McNicholl (HIA) 20-29 mins; S Lee for John half-time; R Elias for Owens 47 mins; D Jones for Costelow 47 mins; R Evans for W Jones 56 mins; K Hardy for Davies 56 mins; Rogers for J Davies 61 mins; S Evans for Shingler 61 mins; M Jones for Ashley 73 mins.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa).
Sin Bin: J McNicholl (Scarlets) 68 mins.