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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 25 September, 2018
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Lowe-inspired Leinster battle hard to see off Pro14 rivals Scarlets

The Kiwi scored a first-half brace as Leo Cullen’s side secured a big win.

Image: Byran Keane/INPHO

Leinster 20

Scarlets 13

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

A SLIVER OF revenge for last May perhaps, but more significantly in the context of Leinster’s current campaign, we may well look back on this result as a hugely defining one for Leo Cullen’s side.

Not only did the eastern province — stripped of the core of their side, before being forced to contend with the loss of Rory O’Loughlin and Luke McGrath — bounce back from last week’s defeat in Edinburgh, but a well-earned victory opens up a three-point lead over their Pro14 Conference B rivals.

Dan Jones’ late penalty after Leinster replacement prop Oisin Heffernan was penalised at the set-piece ensured the Scarlets left Dublin with a point to show for their efforts at the end of an incredibly hard-fought and entertaining contest, but Leinster were full value for their win.

James Lowe’s man-of-the-match display will make the headlines but this was a result founded on Leinster’s dominance at the scrum and lineout, and it will be made all the more satisfactory given the role played by many of their younger players.

There were standout performances all over the park and certainly Leinster needed big contributions from everyone, most notably debutant Ciaran Frawley, who was introduced as early as the 13th minute, Josh Murphy and replacement scrum-half Nick McCarthy.

Scott Fardy, too, was immense and his experience helped Leinster assume and maintain control of a frenzied game with Lowe crossing twice in the first half and McGrath adding a third not long into the second period.

Both Lowe and Fardy showed their worth as they played leading roles in a win which sees Leinster take control of Conference B ahead of the return fixture between the sides at Parc y Scarlets in a fortnight.

Scarlets were much improved from last week’s defeat in Italy but they were guilty of indiscipline at key moments and will be incredibly disappointed by the concession of a couple of soft tries.

Leinster, to their credit, took full advantage and having pulled clear at the start of the second period, showed discipline and composure to manage the end game when Scarlets looked to throw everything at them.

Ioan Nicholas, Adam Byrne and James Davies Adam Byrne is tackled by James Davies. Source: Byran Keane/INPHO

The visitors started brightly, and it took Tadhg Beirne just four minutes to wreak havoc. Max Deegan walked straight into it, the Leinster number eight utterly powerless to prevent the Scarlets blindside getting over the ball to win the turnover penalty. He was only getting started and was supreme all afternoon.

Scarlets lost their way in Treviso last week but were back at the scene of their most acclaimed heist. They had nothing to fear, and showed their intent from early on. Aggressive, direct and a handful in both attack and defence, the visitors hit the front through Johnny Mcnicholl.

Although stripped to the bare bones due, in part, to their own success, Scarlets have maintained a lethal attacking edge in the backline and when they moved the ball down the short side through Steff Hughes and quick hands from Mcnicholl, Beirne provided the front foot ball down the left.

With Jonathan Evans pulling the strings, and dummy runners making it almost impossible for Leinster to nullify the threat, the red shirts pummelled away before exposing holes out wide — Adam Byrne was caught in no-man’s land — and James Davies set Mcnicholl away for the line, although the fullback injured his shoulder in the act of finishing in the corner.

Leinster were forced into an early change of their own when O’Loughlin was knocked backwards by Hughes after Ross Byrne’s hospital pass in midfield, further stretching the province’s centre resources. Not to worry, Frawley is the next cab off the rank.

The multi-talented UCD back provided the link in midfield for Leinster’s passage back into the game. The strength of the pack was evident in making hard yards down the far side, before Leinster changed the point of attack and Scarlets were caught far too narrow, allowing Byrne to loop it wide for Lowe to hold off the covering tackle in the corner.

If Leinster’s first try was soft from a Scarlets perspective, the second was completely avoidable. Lowe was at the heart of it again, as he pinged a low grubber kick deep into opposition territory and although the Kiwi eventually finished it off, it was all about Fardy.

James Lowe is presented the man of the award by Paul Morrissey Lowe was man of the match. Source: Byran Keane/INPHO

After Leinster had lost the ball in their attempt to keep it tight around the fringes, Fardy then charged down Evans’ clearance kick and showed athleticism and strength to collect the loose ball and drive towards the whitewash. He was stopped short, but McGrath recycled and looked towards the blindside for Lowe to do the rest.

It was roles reversed 30 seconds into the second half. Jordan Larmour’s electric feet created the yard of space for Lowe to burst through the first tackle and offload inside for the supporting McGrath, who raced clear to dive over. Frawley took over the kicking duties from Byrne and nailed the touchline conversion.

That was to be McGrath’s last notable involvement, as he too hobbled off with an ankle problem, before Byrne’s high tackle allowedJones bring Scarlets back to within seven points with a penalty between the posts.

With their noses in front, Leinster looked to apply the squeeze in the final quarter and played the territory game effectively with McCarthy kicking smartly and the inexperienced backline defying their years to manage the game.

Larmour, fresh off his Ireland debut and the star attraction, didn’t get enough ball to take advantage of a tiring, and stretched, Scarlets defence but a clever kick and chase, and strong work from Frawley, helped Leinster maintain the pressure.

The hosts felt aggrieved when the TMO ruled Fardy had infringed at the breakdown but the second row, clearly enraged by the decision, produced a match-clinching steal at the lineout before Byrne looked cross-field for his namesake to bundle Corey Baldwin into touch.

Dan Jones kicks a penalty Dan Jones kicked a late penalty. Source: Byran Keane/INPHO

From there, Leinster moved it in field, showing patience and precision to work it through the phases, and Scarlets eventually conceded the penalty to allow Frawley stretch the lead to 10 points with as many minutes remaining.

But Scarlets showed the resilience and spirit of champions to finish strongly and after Jones had missed one opportunity from the tee to secure a losing bonus-point, the pack turned the screw to win another penalty when the clock had hit 80.

Jones wasn’t going to make any mistake this time, and that outcome for the Scarlets was all the more pleasing after they had gone down to 14 men for the remaining minutes when Tom Prydie had been forced off injured. As Pivac said afterwards, that point could prove to be pretty important in the race for the playoffs.

But Leinster are back to winning ways, and that’ll do nicely.

Leinster scorers:Tries: James Lowe [2], Luke McGrath
Penalties: Ciaran Frawley [1 from 1]
Conversions: Ross Byrne [0 from 2], Ciaran Frawley [1 from 1]
Scarlets scorers:Tries: Johnny Mcnicholl
Penalties: Dan Jones [2 from 3]
Conversions: Dan Jones [1 from 1]

LEINSTER: 15. Jordan Larmour, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Rory O’Loughlin (Ciaran Frawley 13’), 12. Noel Reid, 11. James Lowe, 10. Ross Byrne (Barry Daly 70′), 9. Luke McGrath (captain) (Nick McCarthy 49’); 1. Ed Byrne (Peter Dooley 56’), 2. Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss 56’), 3. Michael Bent (Oisin Heffernan 74′), 4. Ross Molony, 5. Scott Fardy, 6. Josh Murphy (Ian Nagle 64’), 7. Jordi Murphy (Will Connors 74′), 8. Max Deegan.

SCARLETS: 15. Johnny Mcnicholl (Corey Baldwin 11’), 14. Tom Prydie, 13. Paul Asquith, 12. Steff Hughes (captain) (Tom Williams 63’), 11. Ioan Nicholas, 10. Dan Jones, 9. Jonathan Evans; 1. Dylan Evans (Phil Price 57’), 2. Ryan Elias (Emyr Philips 68′) 3. Werner Kruger (Simon Gardiner 68′), 4. Steve Cummins (Lewis Rawlins 59’), 5. David Bulbring, 6. Tadhg Beirne, 7. James Davies, 8. Josh Macleod (Will Boyde 68′)

Attendance: 14,916.

Referee: John Lacey [IRFU].

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‘We put a hell of a lot of effort into that game – the sheer amount of defence we did cost us’

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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