James Lowe’s class ensures Leinster have a bit to spare
Tadhg Beirne impresses for Scarlets as late penalty secures a bonus point for visitors
Leinster’s Barry Daly and James Lowe with Dan Jones and Tom Williams of Scarlets at the RDS. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Leinster 20 Scarlets 13
The James Lowe Show, before and after a clean enough victory, punctuated by a phenomenal Tadhg Beirne cameo, that also introduced the Leinster faithful to “Frawley and Porridge”.
“What’s Porridge’s name? I only know his nickname, I’ve got to learn a lot of names!”
Porridge is the man-sized reappearance of former Clongowes Wood flanker Will Connors.
“Will!” Lowe laughed. “Man, I don’t know if he knows my name either so, sweet, but he’s got a huge engine, that typical country boy who works too hard at times, eh? He needs to work smarter, not harder. But people like that are awesome to have, we’ll be happy with or without our internationals.”
This quotable version of Isa Nacewa qualifies and will almost certainly play for Ireland in 2020.
A hard-earned but rarely in doubt four points saw Leinster stripped of two more players, Luke McGrath (knee) and Rory O’Loughlin. The latter suffered a nasty -looking shoulder to shoulder blow, described as a “suspicion of HIA” by Leinster coach Leo Cullen.
Ross Byrne (hip) also passed kicking duties to Ciarán Frawley for an impressive debut by the Skerries man.
The centre stocks look perilously low with Nacewa and Garry Ringrose yet to return while scrumhalf is a fresh concern. If McGrath’s injury proves serious Leinster might have to choose one from Scott Fardy and James Lowe for the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on April 1st.
It seems unthinkable that Leinster would take the field against the European champions without Fardy or Lowe but Jamison Gibson-Park may be an essential selection at number nine.
Lowe plays Pro 14 like a professional footballer would light up his childhood mates five-aside kick about. He served up two tries in the first half to give Leinster a 10-7 interval lead, the standard looks easy to him.
The 14,916 crowd seemed content but, really, they came to see Jordan Larmour. The 20-year-old’s first touch sent a audible fizz around the horse paddock. He slipped changing direction to allow the red defenders pounce but the promise of something special is constant.
Wayne Pivac’s backline also looked capable of cutting through Leinster on almost every attack but sloppy passing denied a repeat of last year’s stunning semi-final victory at the RDS.
Some things remain the same. Being forewarned about Beirne does not matter as this hybrid flanker/lock continues to produce David Pocock-turnover statistics. On four minutes he out muscled Noel Reid to pilfer Leinster possession. His nuisance at the breakdown rustled Jordi Murphy and Max Deegan to life with superb steals of their own either side of clean turnovers by Beirne on 16 and 24 minutes.
“We’re very pleased to have him,” said Pivac when the inevitable Ireland call -up was mentioned. “Week in, week out he’s putting in performances like he did today. He’s been immense for the Scarlets this year and last year, probably one of the best buys the club has ever had.
“Look, I think you’ll see him play for Ireland at some stage in the future and at the moment he lives and plays outside of Ireland and so I think come June [in Australia], if his form continues, he may be rewarded.”
This summer Munster are getting a player in pursuit of greatness.
Not unlike Mr Lowe. His first try came on 18 minutes when Frawley and Byrne combined to put Adam Byrne into a decent attacking position. The big winger’s lofted pass was almost intercepted before finding the lethal finisher.
His second score – after Deegan’s turnover relieved pressure – began with a Fardy lineout steal, Beirne and David Bulbring man handling and dispossessing McGrath, Fardy blocking Corey Baldwin’s attempted clearance, all before Lowe squeezed over.
Following a Stuart Lancaster dressing down visible on the dressing room camera, Leinster returned for the second half with serious intent. It took 32 seconds for Larmour to dance and draw two defenders, for Lowe to bust past Baldwin, free his fingertips and offload for McGrath’s sprint to the line.
A great try reminiscent of the Contepomi-D’Arcy-O’Driscoll days.
That should have been that but Leinster stuttered – a normal enough occurrence during the Six Nations – with a high tackle by Ross Byrne allowing Dan Jones reduce arrears to 17-10.
The game ambled into the last 10 minutes, with referee John Lacey leaving his fussy imprint on affairs when penalising Fardy for one of the game’s many neck rolls, but at least Frawley’s arrival as an outhalf contender was confirmed.
He closed out the victory with another difficult penalty but 14-man Scarlets, Tom Prydie was forced off after all the subs were used, escaped with a deserved losing bonus point when their scrum destroyed the replacement Leinster front row to gift Jones a last-gasp penalty.
Scoring sequence - 9 mins: J McNicholl try, 0-5; D Jones con, 0-7; 18 mins: J Lowe try, 5-7; 34 mins: J Lowe try, 10-7. Half-time. 40 mins: L McGrath try, 15-7; C Frawley con, 17-7; 57 mins: D Jones pen, 17-10; 70 minutes: C Frawley pen, 20-10; 80 mins: D Jones pen, 20-13.
LEINSTER: J Larmour; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent; R Molony, S Fardy; Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, M Deegan. Replacements: C Frawley for R O’Loughlin (13 mins, HIA), N McCarthy for L McGrath (48 mins), R Strauss for S Cronin, P Dooley for E Byrne (both 55 mins), I Nagle for Josh Murphy (64 mins), B Daly for R Byrne (70 mins), O Heffernan for M Bent, W Connors for Jordi Murphy (both 74 mins).
SCARLETS: J McNicholl; T Prydie, P Asquith, S Hughes (capt), I Nicholas; D Jones, J Evans; D Evan, R Elias, W Kruger; S Cummins, D Bulbring; T Beirne, J Davies, J MacLeod. Replacements: C Baldwin for J McNicholl (9 mins), P Price for D Evan (57 mins), L Rawlins for S Cummins (57 mins), T Williams for S Hughes (62 mins, HIA), W Boyde for J Macleod, E Phillips for R Elias, S Gardiner for W Kruger (all 67 mins).
Referee: John Lacey