Leinster hung tough to claim a victory over the Scarlets at the RDS. The win propels the province to second in the Magners League table, and solidifies their challenge for a place in the playoffs. The Scarlets dominated possession and will feel aggrieved by the manner in which they succumbed to the hosts. The evening belonged to fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who contributed 22 points including a late try.
The victory was blemished by an injury to former UCD number eight Sean O’Brien – the Ireland international forced off in the opening minutes after suffering a fractured leg. Stephen Keogh, who filled in capably, replaced him. The injury deepens the hole left in the back row following the departure of Rocky Elsom and a string of injuries and suspensions.
Sexton and his Scarlets counterpart Rhys Priestland exchanged penalties as the visitors started the brighter. The Scarlets set out to attack Leinster from deep, and were eager to let centres Regan King and Jon Davies instigate breaks.
A rare lapse in an impressive defensive display by Leinster allowed the Welsh region to recycle the ball quickly through King and the backrow before Wales hopeful Ken Owens finished the magnificent move. The sideline conversion attempt was put wide by a decidedly out of form Rhys Priestland to leave the hosts in the arrears by 8-3.
Nigel Davies’ outfit were unable to extend their lead as Priestland missed from inside his own half. The Scarlets’ pack then bludgeoned from close range off a lineout but were repelled by the stodgy home side.
The clinical nature of Leinster came to the fore on the half hour. Eoin Reddan delivered quick balll before fan favourite Isa Nacewa finished in the corner with Sexton involved in the build-up. A perfect conversion by the fly-half gave Leinster a 10-8 lead as Leinster made their first meaningful incursions into Scarlets territory. Another penalty increased the advantage; referee Adam MacPherson keen to clamp down on infringements at the breakdown. Priestland replied with a penalty of his own as the first half ended as the visitors entered the break with a narrow 13-11 deficit.
They regained the lead soon after the restart, Priestland’s straightforward placekick coming after Leinster’s defensive exertions were undone by prop Stan Wright’s failure to roll away. However, another Sexton effort eliminated the Scarlet’s lead. The region was frustrated as they failed to convert their chances throughout the encounter. Winger Daniel Evans poorly executed to Regan King just metres from the goal line. His pass intercepted by the patient Fergus McFadden.
The Scarlets continued to press Leinster but lacked the incisiveness to cause any real threat. Fouls in the ruck plagued both sides as such a Scarlets transgression allowed Sexton to extend the lead by three.
Leinster pulled away from the Scarlets as they entered the final quarter of an hour. Shane Horgan continued his fine season with a break that set up another penalty, giving Leinster a two score advantage to the delight of the 14,000 in attendance.
The match effectively ceased as a contest on 70 minutes. Flanker Rob McCuskey knocking on with the line at his mercy after charging down Shaun Berne’s attempted clearance leaving coach Nigel Davies visibly frustrated.
Berne atoned for his concentration lapse moments later. His swift line break set prodigious talent Andrew Conway free, the winger contributing a notable cameo. Conway offloaded to man of the match Jonathan Sexton, who encapsulated a magnificent performance by touching down for a try. The final score of 27-14 probably flattered the home side but is testament to the strength of their defensive effort and the opportunism they demonstrated.
Speaking to The University Observer after the game, stand in captain Shane Jennings was full of praise for his outhalf. “Jonny kicked very well today and controlled the game well,” the flanker noted, adding “hopefully he can keep it up for us.”
With performances like this one, it will not be long before he can attempt the same for Ireland as well.