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Sexton sensational as Leinster smash Scarlets to secure historic double

Jordan Larmour’s sublime solo try was among the highlights of a stunning Leinster performance in Dublin.

Leinster 40

Scarlets 32

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium

LEINSTER MADE HISTORY in convincing fashion in Dublin, even if the final scoreline didn’t tell the true story, as they ran five tries past the Scarlets in securing the first-ever Pro14 and Champions Cup double.

Man of the match Johnny Sexton was sublime at out-half, pulling the strings in a masterful Leinster performance that saw them utterly outclass the Welsh region in all departments.

Sean Cronin celebrates scoring his sides third try with Tadhg Furlong and Jordan Larmour Leinster celebrate Sean Cronin's try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sexton had to captain Leinster for most of the contest as Isa Nacewa’s last game was unfortunately ended in the 19th minute as he limped off injured.

It wasn’t quite a fitting end but Nacewa will return to New Zealand this summer knowing that he leaves Leinster on top of Europe and as arguably the best club side in world rugby.

Their dominance in the Aviva Stadium today as they completed the double was jaw-dropping, with their forward pack on top in the set-piece and vicious at ruck time to deny Scarlets jackals Tadhg Beirne and James Davies any purchase.

With Sexton at his playmaking best and providing a scintillating show of his kicking range, the Leinster backs were able to fire too in a complete team performance.

20-year-old Jordan Larmour scored a stunning solo second-half try, with a truly artistic one-handed pick-up while moving at speed after he had kicked deep into the Scarlets’ 22.

Devin Toner bashed over for a try, Sean Cronin finished at the back of a maul, James Lowe dotted down off a Sexton pass, and Jack Conan finished a sweeping passage of play for the other Leinster tries.

Sexton and many others in this Leinster team now look towards Ireland’s tour of Australia with ambition but, first, they will celebrate a remarkable season under the Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster coaching ticket.

The Scarlets, hammered by Leinster for the second time in a row, must return to the drawing board as they – like everyone else – look to close the gap on the best team in Europe.

Jonathan Sexton kicks a penalty Sexton was sublime. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The opening 25 minutes saw the sides exchanging penalties and left Leinster 9-6 ahead, Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny the only scorers.

A sharp break off a maul by Luke McGrath led to Sexton’s first successful shot, the Scarlets straying offside after the Leinster scrum-half’s dart. Halfpenny equalised when Tadhg Furlong was pinged for pulling Rob Evans’ shirt off the ball.

A poor Rob Kearney garryowen, which saw Leinster’s forwards penalised for not retreating 10 metres, allowed Halfpenny to shift the visitors in front, but Sexton levelled after Kearney had atoned for his error by winning a superb bomb by his out-half.

Leinster had the misfortune to lose Nacewa to injury minutes later, but their third penalty shot came after Lowe slipped replacement centre Rory O’Loughlin into a hole and the Scarlets were again punished for being offside.

Cullen’s side showed their might with a superb team try in the 30th minute, going through 23 phases with power and violently aggressive rucking quality, ending in Devin Toner blasting over from close-range as Dan Leavy and Rhys Ruddock latched on.

Big carries from Furlong and Jack Conan – soon after the number eight’s brilliant break from the base of a scrum in his own half – were important and Leinster’s clearouts were missile-like as they denied the Scarlets the turnover they needed.

Devin Toner scores his sides first try Toner scores for Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But the Welsh side manufactured an impressive multi-phase try of their own in response, based on their width, shape and short passing game.

They dragged Leinster from left to right and pushed them into their 22 before right wing Johnny McNicholl ignored numbers on his left and burst for the line. He was stopped short and offloaded to Steff Evans, but the Wales wing was also halted within inches.

Keeping his composure, McNicholl popped from the base of the ruck to scrum-half Gareth Davies and though Kearney did superbly to prevent him from scoring, McNicholl reacted quickest to scoop the ball up and dive over.

As with Sexton for the Toner try, Halfpenny missed the kickable conversion and it looked as though Leinster would lead 14-11 at the break.

Sexton, however, wasn’t done just yet.

First, he launched his latest towering bomb on top of a shaky-looking Halfpenny, who knocked on. From the scrum, Sexton kick-passed wide left to Lowe, who surged into the Scarlets’ 22 and won a penalty as the Welshmen handled on the ground.

James Lowe celebrates scoring his sides second try with Jonathan Sexton Sexton and Lowe celebrate. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With the clock in the red, Leinster went into the corner and after their first maul drive was illegally collapsed, they tried again.

This time, they couldn’t generate mauling momentum but Sexton swept down the blindside and McGrath slipped the ball to his out-half, who showed slick hands to transfer rapidly to the waiting Lowe, who had an easy finish next to the corner flag.

Sexton even curled over the touchline conversion to leave Leinster in control at 21-11 for half-time.

Garry Ringrose’s intelligent grubber kick down the right provided Leinster with a platform for their next chance, early in the second half, as Halfpenny was forced into touch when he covered across.

Leinster attacked from the lineout and after Davies had knocked-on, they won a penalty close to the posts. Rather than kicking it for a 24-11 lead, they opted for a scrum but second row James Ryan knocked-on just in front of the tryline on second phase.

Scarlets breathed a sigh of relief as they cleared but a high tackle on Sexton by Scott Williams – which referee Stuart Berry initially missed – allowed the Leinster out-half to fire the ball into the right corner with a high-quality line kick.

From the five-metre maul, Leinster were organised and patient, before hooker Cronin darted back towards the touchline and finished in the corner. The classy Sexton converted from the right touchline and Leinster led 28-11.

Jordan Larmour celebrates his try with Garry Ringrose Larmour scored an incredible try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Seven minutes later, Leinster had their fourth and this was of a completely different variety – pure individual brilliance.

The Scarlets kicked in behind Larmour but he turned and gathered close to the right touchline and inside his own half. He immediately spotted space deep and kicked over the head of Owens before hurtling forward on the chase.

Will Boyde did his best to keep pace with him but couldn’t get close and Larmour stunningly flicked the ball off the ground with his right hand while moving at pace to gather it in and gleefully dive over.

Again, Sexton added the right-hand side conversion and the brilliant out-half was soon replaced as Leinster used their bench.

The Scarlets managed to pull a try back through McNicholl out on the right, confirmed by the TMO and converted by Halfpenny, in the 65th minute but Leinster weren’t quite finished.

Sub out-half Carbery broke and passed inside to McGrath, who in turn shifted the ball inside to the supporting Conan, who dived in under the posts to finish a flowing try, converted by Carbery.

Werner Kruger and McNicholl [his hat-trick] added consolation scores for the Scarlets in the dying minutes, but there was nothing they could do to prevent Leinster from sealing their glorious season with a second trophy.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Devin Toner, James Lowe, Sean Cronin, Jordan Larmour, Jack Conan

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [3 from 4], Joey Carbery [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 3]

Scarlets scorers:

Tries: Johnny McNicholl [3], Werner Kruger

Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny [1 from 2], Dan Jones [2 from 2]

Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny [2 from 2]

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (captain) (Rory O’Loughlin ’19), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (Joey Carbery ’64), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’72); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’51), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’60), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’60); Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (Scott Fardy ’56), Dan Leavy (Jordi Murphy ’67), Jack Conan.

SCARLETS: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans (Tom Prydie ’72); Rhys Patchell (Dan Jones), Gareth Davies (Jonathan Evans ’72); Rob Evans (Wyn Jones ’60), Ken Owens (captain) (Ryan Elias ’72), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’56); Lewis Rawlins (David Bulbring ’64), Steve Cummins; Aaron Shingler (Will Boyde ’39), James Davies, Tadhg Beirne.

Referee: Stuart Berry [SARU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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