Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium.
Leinster have secured a historic European and domestic double after they emerged 40-32 victors over Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14 final this evening.
First-half tries from Devin Toner and James Lowe gave Leinster breathing space going into the second half before Sean Cronin, Jack Conan and a bit of magic from Jordan Larmour in the second half signed off on a miraculous season for the eastern province.
The match began with a moment Leinster would have been expecting, a massive tackle and statement of intent from Tadhg Beirne. The Munster-bound forward put in a huge hit on Rob Kearney as the Louth man collected the kick-off.
A lapse in communication led to the first points of the game as two Scarlets players failed to deal with a high ball which resulted in the concession of a lineout. Luke McGrath made a great break up the pitch from the ensuing rolling maul and Scarlets eventually conceded an offside penalty due to the pressure they were under and the excellent Johnny Sexton got the first points of the game.
To be fair to the Welsh side, whenever the conceded points in this game, more often than not, they hit back almost immediately and they did this after Sexton put Leinster 3-0 up. Leinster failed to reclaim the restart and Dan Leavy tackled a player without the ball which gave Leigh Halfpenny the opportunity to level the game with 10 minutes on the clock.
Scarlets took the lead through another Halfpenny kick when a poor up and under attempt from Rob Kearney led to many of his teammates being put in an offside position but he made up for that almost immediately as a Sexton bomb was collected by Kearney. A few phases later, Scarlets gave away a penalty at the ruck when they were conceding ground at an alarming rate.
Before Sexton added another penalty to put Leinster into a 9-6 lead, Isa Nacewa limped off to a standing ovation – a sad way for his Leinster career to end but the reception he got was incredible. That Sexton penalty was the result of an excellent break from Nacewa’s replacement Rory O’Loughlin as the Welsh side were penalised yet again for being offside.
Leinster upped it another gear with about 10 minutes remaining in the first-half and Devin Toner went over from close range with help from the excellent Jack Conan and Dan Leavy who barged him over the line.
Scarlets finally threw a punch after Johnny McNicholls went over after some excellent work from Hadleigh Parkes but just as the Welsh side were about to go in at halftime just three points down, James Lowe crossed in the corner after a lovely ‘push-on’ pass from Sexton.
At the beginning of the second half, Leinster had a 21-11 lead and they put the pressure on their visitors when Garry Ringrose sent a delightful grubber-kick which Halfpenny carried over the touchline. The Scarlets held Leinster out until they knocked the ball forward, from the resulting scrum Leinster almost went over when they sent the ball wide but they managed to win a penalty as Scarlets were pinged for offside.
The decision was to go for another scrum with the scent of a try clearly in Leinster’s nostrils. Conan took the ball from the base of the scrum and was held up just a metre or two before the line, likewise with James Ryan just a phase later. However, Scott Williams ripped the ball in the tackle and was able to relieve the pressure for the Welsh side.
Williams went from hero to villain as just when Scarlets started to put pressure on Leinster at the other end of the pitch, the centre was called back for a high-tackle on Sexton. The stricken Leinster and Ireland star pinged the ball into the Scarlets’ corner and Sean Cronin went over for a punishing try off the back of a dominating rolling maul. Sexton landed the touchline conversion and with still a quarter of the game to go, the result was already beyond doubt.
Jordan Larmour then put the game to bed when he scampered to collect a Scarlets kick. The youngster spotted space in the Scarlets’ backfield and he put boot to ball into the vast open space. There was no one home for the Welsh side and Larmour produced an amazing piece of skill when picked up the ball one-handed before crashing over the line.
Scarlets got a try of their own soon after when they stretched Leinster, something which they tried to do all game but to no avail, which resulted in Johnny McNicholl going over in the corner. Halfpenny converted and it was 33-18 with 15 minutes to go.
Joey Carbery, who is subject to a move down south to Munster, showed the Leinster supporters what they could be missing when he danced his way through a tackle attempt which led to Jack Conan to go in under the posts.
With less than 10 minutes to go, Leinster were cruising 40-18 but Werner Kruger and McNicholl crossed over to put some gloss on the scoreline for the Welsh side.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (O’Loughlin 18′), James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (Carbery 64′), Luke McGrath (McCarthy 73′), Cian Healy (McGrath 52′), Sean Cronin (Tracy 60′), Tadhg Furlong (Porter 60′), Devin Toner, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (Fardy 55′), Dan Leavy (Murphy 67′), Jack Conan.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steffan Evans (Prydie 72′), Rhys Patchell (Jones 76′), Gareth Davies (Evans 72′), Rob Evans, Ken Owens (Elias 73′), Samson Lee (Kruger 55′), Lewis Rawlins (Bulbring 64′), Steven Cummins, Aaron Shingler (Boyde 39′), James Davies, Tadhg Beirne.
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU)