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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 21 January, 2019

'We've had two great days in the Aviva, but it's a very different challenge to go away to Spain'

Leo Cullen hailed his side’s clinical nature as Leinster cruised into the Champions Cup final this afternoon.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

IRREPRESSIBLE LEINSTER ADD another grand performance to an already impressive ledger this season, their ruthless evisceration of Scarlets a victory built on defensive resolution as much as attacking incision.

The Leinster team huddle after the game Leinster's team huddle after today's stunning semi-final win. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Rarely do you see such a one-sided demolition at this stage of European competition, but Leo Cullen’s side have built up a considerable head of steam this season which will be difficult to stop.

And so they march on to Bilbao on the back of this five-try victory over the defending Pro12 champions with a fourth European crown very much in their sights, this fearless, clinical bunch on the verge of emulating the great sides of 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Three first-half tries, scored by James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden, set Leinster on their way to a 38-16 win, with man-of-the-match Scott Fardy and Johnny Sexton ensuring the province’s dominance was reflected on the scoreboard after the interval.

“I thought the players were pretty clinical in terms of taking opportunities,” Cullen said afterwards. “When we got into their 22, we came away with points more often than not.

“Scoring that try just on half-time — clearly when you score early and have a lead, it allows you to be able to manage the game and try squeeze the opposition a little bit more.

“I thought the players did well in terms of those parts of the game. The try on half-time, they are always big moments and it gave us real positive momentum.

“How the guys managed the start of the second half, played in the right areas of the field. Again when Scott scores and then Johnny 10 minutes later, we were always able to keep the game in the right areas of the field for us to put pressure on Scarlets.

“Ultimately we’re delighted to get the win. We have a lot of respect for Scarlets in terms of what they have done in recent times.”

Leinster set a fierce early tempo, with Fardy thundering into collisions in midfield and doing Trojan work either side of the ball, while 21-year-old Ryan was again outstanding, the second row finishing top of the carries and tackles charts.

Robbie Henshaw and Dan Jones Robbie Henshaw was outstanding on his return from injury. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The forwards, to a man colossal, set the platform for Jamison Gibson-Park to deliver crisp and sharp ball for the backline, led by the peerless Johnny Sexton and the returning Robbie Henshaw, who put in a remarkable shift considering he dislocated his shoulder here just 10 weeks ago.

“We certainly well and truly came up second best against them last year, different competition I know but everyone has worked hard to get the team to this point – the players in particular, all the backroom team behind the scenes,” Cullen continued.

“It’s important that we just dust ourselves now and get ourselves ready for Bilbao, which will be a bit different for us, but a great challenge nonetheless.”

Leinster will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to discover who they will play at the San Mames Stadium on Saturday 12 May, with the prospect of an All-Ireland decider still very much on as Munster lock horns with Racing in Bordeaux.

For now, Cullen and his squad can enjoy another standout display and savour another memorable day in front of 48,455 inside the Aviva Stadium, many of whom were wearing blue on a sizzling Saturday stolen from June.

“It’s all done now, a great day,” the head coach continued. “The drive into the ground was amazing, a lot of blue out on the streets.

“Going through the pool stages we talk about all the little margins through the course of those six games and all that work that goes in to make sure that you get a home quarter-final first off and then that you do everything in your powers, in your control, to try and get a semi-final in Ireland somewhere, which is ultimately here.

“Bilbao is a slightly more difficult venue to get to but I’m sure we’ll have great support over there as well.”

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at the post-match press conference. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Cullen, who is now hoping to become the first person to win the European Cup as both a player and coach, added: “They’re a great bunch to work with, a great bunch to play with as well.

“For us now it’s just about concentrating on the process of how we go about preparing to give ourselves the best chance. We’ll watch with great interest the game tomorrow and try and put a plan together based on what we’re seeing.

“It’s a great challenge, the final in Spain is unusual and we hope it’ll be a special day. We’ve had two great days here at the Aviva but it’s a very different challenge for us go away to Spain.”

Cullen reported that McFadden, who was clattered by Steff Evans in the act of scoring Leinster’s third try, will have a scan on the injury which forced him off at half-time, while the province are confident of having Luke McGrath and Rhys Ruddock back fit for their fourth European final.

“Ferg has taken a bang to the back of his knee,” he added. “Not sure if it’s his calf or hamstring, he’ll get a scan. Bangs and bruises other than that, nothing major.

“Luke is making good progress and same with Rhys so not a million miles away.”

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Talking points as Leinster thrash Scarlets to reach Champions Cup final

Five-star Leinster book their ticket to Bilbao with scintillating victory over Scarlets

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Ryan Bailey

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