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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 17 October, 2018
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'We're part of something really special and winning is such a great feeling'

Greed is driving Leinster’s quest to add a fourth European star to the club’s crest after they dispatched Scarlets with a ruthless semi-final display.

Kearney: The more you win, the more you want to win.
Kearney: The more you win, the more you want to win.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

IN CONJURING YET another superlative display, running through the full range of rugby’s virtues, Leinster flexed their considerable muscle to move within striking distance of a fourth European crown.

A most complete performance, one of utter dominance, brutality and intent, as Leo Cullen’s side made it eight wins from eight in the Champions Cup this season, blowing Scarlets, the defending Pro12 champions, away with minimal fuss.

Pace, precision and power, it was a Leinster performance for the ages, a throwback to the glorious teams of the past, with the province re-emerging as the dominant force in Europe they once were.

There have been memorable days down through the years, indelible days during a rugby dynasty under Michael Cheika and then Joe Schmidt, and the hope is that this bunch, the new wave, can emulate those feats and further embellish this Grand Slam-winning season in fitting style.

For all the talk of the irrepressible James Ryan, the outstanding Dan Leavy and a new cohort of wunderkinds, the links back to 2009, 2011 and 2012 remain key to it all.

Scott Fardy, the hardened Wallaby, has added punch to a gnarled pack, and has had just as much impact as predecessors Rocky Elsom and Brad Thorn, while Johnny Sexton, Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney remain ever-present, and ever-reliable.

Even after all these years, after all the success, the hunger remains.

“It’s probably higher,” Kearney says of his own personal drive and ambition.

“It’s human nature, you…you get really greedy. You want more. We’re in a club where we are surrounded by so many ambitious, competitive people. The team is doing really well chasing for silverware. There’s nothing worse having to watch that from a couch somewhere else, when you’re not involved.

“We’re part of something really special and winning is such a great feeling. And the more you win, the more you want to win and the more trophies you get, the greedier you get for more.

“That’s what builds it — greed, in a nice way.”

Greed is good, this Leinster team — consummate, experienced and driven — ruthless and unwavering in their quest to restore past glories and reach new heights under Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.

Leinster players celebrate at the final whistle Leinster's forwards did all the damage, bullying Scarlets into submission. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A slick line out, from which they unleashed glorious first phase attacks, ferocity at the breakdown, power in contact and a clinical, precise edge with ball in hand meant a 22-point semi-final win was an emphatic marker to lay down at this juncture, adding to their monumental displays in previous rounds.

Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden all crossed before half-time and then man-of-the-match Fardy and Sexton tacked on further scores to bring Leinster closer to their ultimate goal, with only Munster or Racing 92 now standing in their way.

And the most encouraging part of it all is that Leinster have added more than one string to their bow, with the pain of last year fuelling their desire to be better this time around.

Here they were direct, carrying hard around the fringes and punching holes in a usually obdurate Scarlets defence. But Leinster have a calibre of ball-carrier like no other in this competition, the return of Robbie Henshaw in midfield and his ability to crash over the gain-line central to the province’s victory.

“The game plan today was what we were meant to do last year [in the Pro12 semi-final], you need to play a little bit different against the Scarlets,” Sexton explains.

“You need to be more direct because they’ve got 14 guys in the line on their feet and you have to puncture holes in their defence as opposed to get around them, as you’re never really going to get around him.

“I think at times last year we tried to go around them and we got caught out but today we picked our moments when we went wide a lot better. In fairness to the forwards, they fronted up time and time again…and Robbie, he was insane.”

Jonathan Sexton, Leo Cullen and Rob Kearney Sexton, Cullen and Kearney speak at the post-match press conference. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

A remarkable shift from Henshaw having dislocated his shoulder on this turf just 10 weeks ago, as he put on a defensive masterclass with Garry Ringrose in the Leinster midfield to shut a dangerous Scarlets backline out and not give them a sniff.

From Glasgow to Exeter to Montpellier to Saracens and now Scarlets, Leinster have bullied opposition into submission during this campaign and have shown no real sign of weakness, with the feeling that there is yet more to come from Cullen’s side.

So can they bridge the six-year gap for European glory?

“We’ll find out in a couple of weeks,” Sexton says. “It really is, when you come to a final, anything can happen. We know that. We’ve been underdogs before in finals and won, we’ve been favourites and lost.

“You need to be humble and realise everything is about our preparation now. Keeping our feet on the ground, I don’t think we are that much better than the Scarlets today, we just took a couple of chances. We were quite clinical, which is the pleasing part.”

Bilbao beckons, and Leinster can dare to dream.

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Ryan Bailey

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