Lowe puts on another show as Leinster step past Scarlets
Tadhg Beirne again impresses for Welsh side as they claim late bonus point
Leinster’s Scott Fardy drives towards the tryline despite the efforts of Jonathan Evans and Corey Baldwin of Scarlets during the Guinness Pro 14 game at the RDS. Photograph: Byran Keane/Inpho
Leinster 20 Scarlets 13
The James Lowe show.
Isa Nacewa 2.0 except this Kiwi can play for Ireland in 2020.
A comfortable victory in the end but another game and another injury conundrum for Leinster. Two actually. The centre stocks look perilously low while scrumhalf is a fresh concern.
Let this settle in. If Luke McGrath’s injury proves serious Leinster will have to drop Scott Fardy or James Lowe for the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on April 1st.
A tricky situation, of their own making, that may not come to pass. To explain, only three New Zealanders/Australians can be named in a matchday squad so McGrath’s absence would demand the promotion of Jamison Gibson-Park, who is not Irish qualified until 2019.
Especially this madcap winger. Lowe plays Pro 14 like a professional footballer would light up his childhood mates five-a-side kickabout.
The standard seems so easy to him. Serving up two tries in the first half, both conversions proved outside Ross Byrne’s range but it still gave Leinster a 10-7 interval lead.
The 14,916 were happy enough but, really, they came to see the kid.
A collective gasp fizzed around the horse paddock for Jordan Larmour’s first touch.
The fullback looked up and saw all that grass behind the onrushing red line. Changing direction with intent to skin Corey Baldwin – in for another coasting Kiwi Johnny McNicholl, who wrecked his shoulder scoring the opening try – Larmour slipped to allow the defenders to pounce.
His only other input in the opening 40 minutes was to slide on James Davies’s rash grubber when it looked like Scarlets had a numerical advantage out wide.
Wayne Pivac’s backline looked capable of cutting up Leinster on almost every attack but sloppy passing denied them a repeat of last year’s stunning semi-final victory at the RDS.
Some things remained the same. Being forewarned about Tadhg Beirne doesn’t really matter as this hybrid flanker/lock from Clongowes Wood College went to work. On four minutes Beirne and Noel Reid met over a Leinster ruck with Reid easily out muscled and made irrelevant by superior technique.
The specialist 12 shifted to outside centre on 13 minutes due to Rory O’Loughlin’s concussion – not his first this season – as Ciarán Frawley arrived for an earlier than expected debut.The young Skerries man showed well.
Munster have signed themselves a gem of a player.
To the Lowe show. The first try came on 18 minutes when Frawley and Ross Byrne combined to put Adam Byrne into a decent attacking position. The big winger’s lofted pass was almost intercepted before finding Lowe.
The second score – after Deegan’s turnover relieved pressure – began with a Fardy lineout steal, Beirne and David Bulbring manhandling and dispossessing McGrath, Fardy blocking Baldwin’s attempted clearance, all before Lowe squeezed over.
After a Stuart Lancaster dressing down in the dressingroom, Leinster returned for the second half with serious intent.
Ross Byrne was replaced on place kicking duties by Frawley, who nailed a touchline conversion after the third try.
It took them 32 seconds. Larmour danced and drew two defenders before Lowe busted past Baldwin, freeing his fingertips and offloading – child’s play – for McGrath’s sprint to the line.
That should have been it but Leinster were not their usual selves – and how could they be during the Six Nations – as a Ross Byrne high tackle allowed Dan Jones reduced 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 many neck rolls, but at least Frawley’s arrival as an outhalf contender was confirmed.
He closed the game down with another difficult penalty.
Unlike a few weeks ago in Paris, the contest ended 15 against 14 men as Tom Prydie was forced off injured after all the subs were used.
By the way, Larmour finished at outside centre, with Messiesque footwork making fools of decent defenders.
Scarlets did escape with a deserved losing bonus point when their scrum destroyed the replacement Leinster frontrow to gift Jones a late 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 mins: 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), R Strauss for S Cronin, P Dooley for E Byrne (both 55), I Nagle for J Murphy (64), B Daly for R Byrne (70), O Heffernan for M Bent, W Connors for J Murphy (both 74).
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), L Rawlins for S Cummins (57), T Williams for S Hughes (62, HIA), W Boyde for J Macleod, E Phillips for R Elias, S Gardiner for W Kruger (all 67).
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).