Heineken Cup finalists Leinster had no hangover from last Saturday’s fantastic win over Munster as they destroyed The Scarlets 45-8 at The RDS to move up to second place in The Magners League on Friday evening.
Luke Fitzgerald (2), Shane Horgan (2), Brian O’Driscoll, the brilliant Jonathan Sexton and replacement Girvan Dempsey all crossed the line in a one-sided affair that leaves the Welsh side in danger of missing out on automatic HEC qualification for next season.
Mark Jones did manage a first-half try for The Scarlets but Friday was an evening that, in truth, they will just want to forget after being torn apart in Dublin.
Sexton’s inclusion in Michael Cheika’s starting XV was one of only two changes from the side that started the semi-final success over Munster last Saturday. He was in to take over kicking duties from the iconic, but injured, Felipe Contepomi, but made a bad start to it as his first penalty attempt, which was by no means a difficult chance, rebounded back off the post.
However, it was not too long before Sexton was putting together a man-of-the-match showing and the Murrayfield-bound hosts made it onto the scoresheet.
The visiting defense was ripped apart after a scrum option from a penalty. Horgan collected and chose Isa Nacewa of the two options to his left. The former Fijian international could have gone for the line himself but he in turn went left to Fitzgerald, who had no shortage of time to touch down. Sexton’s conversion was inch-perfect from close to the line and it was 7-0.
It was not too long before Sexton was making it 14-0. In the interim, Stephen Jones missed a penalty for The Scarlets. He and they were soon punished as a rapid-fire training ground move saw the ball travel from Chris Whitaker to Nacewa via the impressive Sexton. Nacewa then fed Horgan, who had no challengers as he bounded to the line for the home side’s second try.
Daniel Evans took over kicking duties from Stephen Jones to get Nigel Davies’ men off the mark with a penalty and things began to go against Leinster just a little when shortly after that Sexton, who had been doing so well his missed penalty apart, was sent to the bin for kicking the ball out of touch while on the ground.
The hosts fell into a bit of a sloppy spell and were caught cold when Cian Healy was evaded by Mark Jones after a well-taken collection. The Scarlets man still had to ride a Nacewa challenge but a clever jump allowed him to do just that and he ran behind for 14-8. 14-8 it then remained as Stephen Jones was off target again from the conversion.
However, once Sexton was back on the pitch Leinster were in full flow again. On the brink of half-time, after winning a penalty, captain Leo Cullen again opted to take on the scrum leading to O’Driscoll powering right and then feeding Fitzgerald, who weaved his way between two defenders and crossed the line for his second try. Sexton converted again and Leinster were within one try of a bonus-point at the break.
There was no let-up from the hosts in the second half, and it took just six more minutes For the bonus point to be put in the bag. Fittingly it was O’Driscoll, the man who ran clear to finish off Munster at Croke Park six days previously, who was on the mark for this one, this time barging past all challengers for his side’s fourth try and setting up a fourth successful conversion from Sexton.
Four then became five as Sexton set himself up for another kick. The fly-half ran free as visiting defenders were lost as to whether and try and shackle him or Fitzgerald. They made the wrong choice as the number ten held on and ran over the line before bringing his personal tally for the game to 15.
The search for number six was held up when Horgan was impeded as he tried to touch down again near the posts, but as The Scarlets gave away successive fouls their concentration was beat and replacement Dempsey drew several defenders his way before playing the ball right to Horgan. At pace and again without challenge ‘Shaggy’ touched down in the corner for his second and Leinster’s sixth.
The only blemish this time was the end of Sexton’s perfect conversion record, but he still managed to hit the post for a second time from a tough angle on the right touchline.
There seemed to be no end to the procession as not long after that one, Cheika’s men made it seven tries after their umpteenth fine team move. Sexton took out several players with his crossfield pass, which was collected by Horgan. He bombed forward on the right and kicked forward. It evaded Gordon D’Arcy but not Dempsey who ran into grab a try his effective cameo had already earned.
That was the last of the scoring from what was no contest in the end. The Scarlets are a team still with work to do but Leinster are looking good with the big one still to come.
Leinster: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Chris Whitaker; Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Stan Wright; Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O'Kelly; Sean O'Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Ronan McCormack, Devin Toner, Stephen Keogh, Simon Keogh, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey.
Scarlets: Daniel Evans; Mark Jones, Gavin Evans, Jon Davies, Lee Williams; Stephen Jones (capt), Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Phil John; Vernon Cooper, Dominic Day; Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons.
Replacements: Deacon Manu, Ken Owens, Lou Reed, Rob McCusker, Gavin Cattle, Rhys Priestland, Rob Higgitt.