Johnny Sexton contributed 18 points as Leinster beat the Scarlets 38-16 in Dublin on Saturday to secure their place in the European Champions Cup final. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
As predicted here, Leinster’s imperious form this season meant this semi-final could turn into a one-sided contest. And that is exactly what happened, as Leinster and their talisman Sexton produced a performance for the ages to see off the visitors.
The Scarlets, looking to reach their first-ever final in Europe’s premier club competition, were not overawed by the momentous occasion. In fact, they did little wrong, but were simply outplayed by Leinster in front of the partisan crowd inside the Aviva Stadium.
The hosts didn’t enjoy the best of starts, as they conceded a kickable penalty early on, which Leigh Halfpenny turned into three points for the Scarlets. But as the crowd began to find their voice, Leinster found their range as they picked the Scarlets apart.
Leinster worked the Scarlets defence from side to side inside the 22 in search of the opening try and it came in the form of 21-year-old lock James Ryan, who used brute strength to go over and score. Sexton added the conversion and a penalty for a 10-3 lead.
Halfpenny kicked two more penalties for the visitors but each of his attempts was followed by a converted try for Leinster. Loosehead prop Cian Healy scored in similar fashion as Ryan, before the backline got in on the act through a well-constructed try by wing Fergus McFadden. That was, however, McFadden’s last act as he was forced off with an injury on the stroke of half-time.
Trailing by 15, the Scarlets needed a strong start to the second half. Unfortunately for them, Leinster were relentless in their pursuit of delivering a statement performance to strengthen their creditials as title favourites.
Whenever the Scarlets were in possession, Leinster’s accurate cleanouts at the breakdown just robbed them of the ball and forced them on the back foot again.
Scott Fardy, the former Wallabies captain and eventual Man of the Match, accounted for Leinster’s fourth when he was stopped just short of the line but showed great awareness and presence of mind to stretch out and place the ball on the tryline.
But the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for Leinster’s cult hero Sexton. With his team on the attack inside the 22, the flyhalf called for the ball and once he was in possession he stepped and swerved to unlock the Scarlets’ defence for a self-converted effort.
Leading by 29 with 20 minutes remaining, Leinster – clearly confident that the win had been secured – had the luxury of taking off Sexton as a precaution.
The Scarlets did see more of the ball in the last 10 minutes and they were rewarded when lock Tadhg Beirne broke the line in midfield and ran away for a consolation try.
Leinster – Tries: James Ryan, Cian Healy, Fergus McFadden, Scott Fardy, Johnny Sexton. Conversions: Sexton (5). Penalty: Sexton.
Scarlets – Try: Tadhg Beirne. Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (3).
Leinster – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Scarlets – 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Steve Cummins, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Will Boyde.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images