Stunning Scarlets shock dire Leinster to make Pro12 history at the RDS

The Welsh region were entirely deserving of their victory in Dublin.

Leinster 15

Scarlets 27

Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS

LEINSTER HAVE BEEN lauded for their attacking quality this season but Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets taught Leo Cullen’s side a lesson in a rampant first half that fired them to the first-ever away semi-final win in the Guinness Pro12.

Steff Evans celebrates scoring a try with Johnny McNicholl The Scarlets were sensational at the RDS. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Welsh region played scintillating rugby to rack up three tries in the opening half, giving themselves a 21-10 lead at the break, and managed to repel Leinster thereafter despite playing the entire second 40 with only 14 men.

Brilliant wing Steff Evans, among their try scorers, was red carded just before the interval for tipping Garry Ringrose over in the tackle, but a dire evening for Leinster meant they simply couldn’t reel in the Scarlets’ lead.

With openside James Davies’ influence dominant – it’s a mystery how he is not in Wales’ summer squad – and former Leinster man Tadhg Beirne making his presence felt, Pivac’s men were entirely deserving winners as they made Pro12 history.

Leinster, on the other hand, were dire. Their attack was shockingly poor aside from one brilliant first-half try, with handling errors repeatedly costing them in important areas of the pitch.

Johnny Sexton’s evening – dropped balls and poor kicks – was emblematic of a hugely disappointing performance in front of a crowd of 15,861 at the RDS.

The Ireland out-half had last played four weekends ago in the Champions Cup semi-final against Clermont and his long period out of action was apparent throughout. Sexton was not the only one at fault, of course, with other leaders like Cian Healy, Isa Nacewa and Robbie Henshaw underperforming in a poor collective showing.

Johnny Sexton reacts after a kick Leinster were poor. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Adding to the insult was an injury to Lions prop Jack McGrath, who departed with a worrying-looking elbow injury, while scrum-half Luke McGrath and back row Rhys Ruddock both failed head injury assessments.

It marks an upsetting end to a Leinster season that promised so much, particularly with next weekend’s Pro12 final being hosted at the Aviva Stadium.

The Scarlets, meanwhile, dance into the final to meet the winner of tomorrow’s semi-final clash between Munster and the Ospreys. Neither of those sides will be taking Pivac’s men lightly.

Leinster thought they had the dream start as Isa Nacewa beat Liam William down the left touchline in the third minute after a clinical attacking passage, but referee Marius Mitrea called play back for a forward pass from Sexton.

The slick nature of that first Leinster attack proved to be in contrast to much of the remainder of their first half and instead it was Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets who brought fluidity and incision on the ball.

Steff Evans scores the first try Evans crossed for the opening try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The impressive Jonathan Davies rode a poor tackle effort from Adam Byrne wide on the Scarlet’s left, offloading to John Barclay, who strode forward to draw in Leinster fullback Joey Carbery and feed Steff Evans to round under the posts for a converted 10th-minute try.

Leinster lost loosehead McGrath to injury just after that score, and the likes of Sexton and Robbie Henshaw continued to make errors.

Captain Isa Nacewa got them off the mark with a penalty as Sexton was treated after a fine run on kick return, though, and then it looked like Leinster had their first try.

Scrum-half Luke McGrath burst clear from halfway after Scott Williams’ handling error, but Evans made a stunning try-saving tackle from behind, before Liam Williams’ brilliant turnover.

McGrath departed with a head injury from that incident, but Leinster did take the lead with a gorgeous set-piece try on the 25-minute mark, striking on second phase as replacement Jamison Gibson-Park, hooker James Tracy, Sexton, Jack Conan and Ringrose combined for a brilliant score, the Ireland centre finishing at pace.

The Scarlets bounced back with a minute. Former Leinster man Tadhg Beirne partially blocked a Gibson-Park kick, before Aaron Shingler burst through and played a one-two with Gareth Davies before fending Gibson-Park to score, with Rhys Patchell again converting.

Gareth Davies celebrates on his way to scoring their third try Gareth Davies gets in on the action. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sexton didn’t get 10 metres on his restart and the pressure continued to build, the Welsh visitors dotting down again with 30 minutes played as scrum-half Davies got in on the act.

Scott Williams flicked away an offload for influential openside James Davies to make a second offload, before Evans drew Carbery and hit Davies on his inside shoulder to finish a sublime score.

The Scarlets were rampant, making another break through Evans soon after, but then scrum-half Davies conceded a needless penalty by blocking Sexton’s attempt to take a 22 drop-out and Leinster went upfield with half-time approaching.

As they looked to build to a score, the in-form Evans tipped Ringrose over in the tackle that drew the immediate ire of the home crowd and sent Mitrea to the TMO review.

With Ringrose’s head making contact with the ground, Mitrea had the grounds to show red and he dished it out to the delight of the Leinster support, meaning the Scarlets headed into the second half without their most devastating attacking force.

Steff Evans is sent off after a tackle on Garry Ringrose Evans saw red in the first half. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Still they had a 21-10 lead and showed fine composure in the first 14 minutes or so of the second half, with Leinster continuing to make errors.

Cian Healy knocked on with 50 minutes on the clock, before the Scarlets scrum earned a crucial penalty to fire the ball down into Leinster’s 22.

But Cullen had sent Toner into the fray from the bench, having stated he would bring impact before this game, and the experienced Ireland lock provided exactly that by forcing his way through the maul to help force a turnover.

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Yet the Leinster attack continued to struggle to create anything even with their one-man advantage.

There was still no sign of a score by the 60-minute mark, when Tadhg Furlong departed to be replaced by Michael Bent, just after Sexton’s poor evening continued with a kick into touch on the full.

It was an error from the Scarlets that finally opened the door, with hooker Ryan Elias -starting in the absence of injured captain Ken Owens – allowing James Tracy to gather and surge.

Johnny Sexton drops a ball Sexton had a poor evening for Leinster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Replacement Dan Leavy carried next, before Conan forced his way through Scott Williams for a 64th-minute try, Toner latching on to aid the number eight’s drive.

Nacewa incredibly managed to hit the post with the straightforward conversion attempt, but Leinster were back to within six points at 21-15.

The Scarlets scrum again produced a big moment with 68 minutes on the clock, forcing a penalty from Healy and allowing Liam Williams – not the regular place-kicking by any means – to have a shot at goal.

The Lions wing had slotted a penalty and a conversion earlier this season, however, and he slotted his shot from out on the left to give the Scarlets a nine-point cushion with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Leinster had one or two final efforts in vain but they were beaten and Williams even tacked on his second penalty in the closing minute to copperfasten a big Scarlets upset.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose, Jack Conan

Conversions: Isa Nacewa [1 from 2]

Penalties: Isa Nacewa [1 from 1]

Scarlets scorers:

Tries: Steff Evans, Gareth Davies, Aaron Shingler

Conversions: Rhys Patchell [3 from 3]

Penalties: Liam Williams [2 from 2]

LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose (Zane Kirchner ’74), Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (captain); Johnny Sexton (Ross Byrne ’80), Luke McGrath (HIA – Jamison Gibson-Park ’23); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’10), James Tracy (Richardt Strauss ’71), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’61); Ross Molony, Hayden Triggs (Devin Toner ’51); Rhys Ruddock (HIA – Dan Leavy ’47), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

SCARLETS: Johnny McNicholl; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steff Evans (red card ’38); Rhys Patchell (Hadleigh Parkes ’61), Gareth Davies (Jonathan Evans ’51); Rob Evans (Wyn Jones ’56), Ryan Elias (Emyr Phillips ’71), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’65); Lewis Rawlins (David Bulbring ’65), Tadhg Beirne; Aaron Shingler, James Davies (DTH Van Der Merwe ’80), John Barclay (captain) (Will Boyde ’63).

Referee: Marius Mitrea [FIR].

Attendance: 15,861.

- This article was updated at 10.10pm to correct the half-time scoreline from 21-8 to 21-10.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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