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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 14 December, 2018
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A very, very good afternoon. We’re fed, watered and sunscreened at the Aviva Stadium and ready to talk you through what is set up to be a thriller.

The reigning Pro12 champions are in town, keen to underline their quality with another victory in Dublin.

Leinster, meanwhile, have waited a long time to exact a measure of revenge for the Pro12 semi-final loss they suffered to Wayne Pivac’s side in the RDS last May.

We’ve got teams stacked with internationals, a clear day, a hard track and gorgeous 16 degree weather. Brace yourself.

Our boys in the EPCR have just confirmed there are no changes to the teams.

So here are today’s runners and riders.

Leinster

15. Rob Kearney
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Isa Nacewa
10. Johnny Sexton (Capt.)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Scott Fardy
7. Dan Leavy
8. Jordi Murphy

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Jack McGrath
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Jack Conan
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Joey Carbery
23. Jordan Larmour

Scarlets

15 Rhys Patchell
14 Leigh Halfpenny
13 Scott Williams
12 Hadleigh Parkes
11 Steff Evans
10 Dan Jones
9 Gareth Davies

1 Rob Evans
2 Ken Owens (Capt)
3 Samson Lee
4 Tadhg Beirne
5 David Bulbring
6 Aaron Shingler
7 James Davies
8 John Barclay

Replacements:

16 Ryan Elias
17 Dylan Evans
18 Werner Kruger
19 Lewis Rawlins
20 Steve Cummins
21 Aled Davies
22 Steff Hughes
23 Will Boyde

We’re just under 30 minutes from kick-off, so you’ve still got time to get yourself in front of a Sky box. Most of the people planning to watch the match in person today are still outside the ground making the most of this unusual weather.

Inside, Scarlets are busily warming up. They have bristled all week long as bookies, pundits and, they feel, Ryanair have written off their chances of victory today.

The odds are certainly heavily in Leinster’s favour. One bookmaker has the visiting team at 4/1 in this two-horse trace with Leinster’s handicap currently set at 10 points.

Wayne Pivac’s side have not shunned the chance to use those outside perceptions to fuel their motivation this week.

Ken Owens and Jonathan Sexton with referee Romain Poite during the coin toss Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

We’re in that cringey in-between time before kick-off when a man is touring round exuberant front-row fans inviting them to shout down the microphone.

So, one bawdy version of Delilah and a bit of Molloy Malone later, we’re back on track for some rugby.

The flames are lit, the flags are out and soon the teams will be too.

Our prediction is that it will be tighter than the bookies expect, but ultimately I feel Leinster will find a way to win… by less than seven.

Dan Jones kicks us off in a terrific atmosphere on Lansdowne Road. Scarlets pinged at the resulting mail and Sexton will kick for an early attacking line-out.

2Mins

Tadhg Beirne makes his presence felt nice and early to frustrate that early Leinster advance. The packs will set for a few sun-drenched scrums on halfway.

5Mins

Leinster scrum dominant, but John Barclay made yards after the wheel and the visitors will attack into the shade.

Hadleigh Parkes goes crashing in and Fardy looks to have taken Steff Evans high.

Halfpenny will have a penalty shot from here.

5Mins

PENALTY: Leinster 0 Scarlets 3 (Halfpenny ’6)

Beautiful strike from 45 metres by Halfpenny, almost exactly the same kick he had in the early minutes of the Six Nations match here last month.

9Mins

A big slice of luck for Rob Kearney there as he mis-hits a clearance kick after scrambling back, but it spins agonisingly out of Halfpenny’s reach.

After the resulting line-out, Fardy makes up for his pen in a big way, charging down Gareth Davies and forcing the red shirts to panic and back pedal.

10Mins

TRY! Leinster 5 Scarlets 3 (Ryan ’10)

Beautiful move off the top of a line-out from Leinster. Sexton sets Nacewa away and he unleashes McFadden down the right wing.

The veteran wing didn’t have the pace to convert, but he hammered into a tackle and Scarlets weren’t able to stop the cavalry shoving James Ryan over the line.

11Mins

Johnny Sexton converts from a tricky angle out on the right to make the score a maximum.

Poite went to his TMO to make sure there was no double movement from Ryan for his first European try.

He was tackled, but hadn’t hit the deck before a thunderous shunt from Jordi Murphy gave him room to get over the try-line.

Leinster 7 Scarlets 3

15Mins

Excellent stuff from Leinster, following up the score with a superb attack set off by Sexton’s pass wide to Nacewa.

Henshaw has been involved, Sexton’s had a cut and Leinster looked set to lay siege to to the try-line only for Scarlets to force a scrum V after withstanding the phases of pressure.

19Mins

Unbelievable from McFadden, Steff Evans looked like he was away from his own 22, but the Kildare man somehow stole possession and kept the pressure pouring towards the Havelock Square end.

Leinster looked to have an excellent chance for try number 2, but JGP opted to kick a penalty advantage rather than use the hands of Sexton and Nacewa when they were two on two on the short side.

Sexton slams the penalty over.

PENALTY: Leinster 10 Scarlets 3 (Sexton ’19)

21Mins

After an error from McFadden on the restart, Samson Lee forces the scrum penalty and Halfpenny can cut into the lead.

21Mins

PENALTY! Leinster 10 Scarlets 6 (Halfpenny ’21)

24Mins

Leinster’s attack is absolutely humming off set-piece. After yards are made by Henshaw and Rob Kearney trucks up, Beirne slows the ball up and earns several hard, sharp slaps on the arse from Dan Leavy before a high ball is hoisted for Fergus McFadden to chase in the right corner.

No try, but the knock on brings another Scrum V for Leinster to attack from.

26Mins

Starting with McFadden Leinster looked like they hard trucked the ball over the line by the posts. Poite seems to have a look, but quickly makes the call to go back for a scrum penalty.

They go again.

29Mins

Leinster aren’t worried about Scarlets reading them, they go with the same play again. McFadden running off JGP and then leaving it to the tight five to hammer the try-line.

With help from Fardy, it’s Church who brings the pill across the line and leaves Sexton an easy conversion.

Leinster 17 Scarlets 6

34Mins

A good defensive set from Leinster there as Scarlets bid to make their way back in the game. It was solid, except for another poor tackle from Fardy.

After giving a penalty away from a high snag on Evans earlier, he’s lucky not to get punished for not using his arms here.

The chance at goal comes for Scarlets as Leavy is penalised on the ground.

Penalty! Leinster 17 Scarlets 9 (Halfpenny ’33)

37Mins

Another scent of Scarlets finding their rhythm but after the ball in flung into the midriff of Beirne, James Davies mis-handles the ball out wide in Leinster’s 22 and the momentum is lost.

40Mins

What a way to end the half! Leinster’s tight five keep their team on the front foot in the Scarlets 22 and after overloading the left, Garry Ringrose finds space in the middle and flings a spectacular pass 20 metres to McFadden on the right wing.

McFadden takes a knee in the thigh as he slides in, Sexton needed treatment too but dusts himself down to take the touchline conversion. And take it bloody well.

HALF-TIME: Leinster 24 Scarlets 9

One foot in Bilbao.

41Mins

The teams are back out for the second half, Jordan Larmour is among the Leinster 15. He replaces McFadden who was injured scoring Leinster’s third try on the stroke of half-time.

45Mins

A little glimpse of Jordan Larmour there in the right hand corner of Scarlets’ 22. With no space to work with and a mass of red shirts in front of him, the 21-year-old jinked in and out with dazzling feet to make an extra metre.

54Mins

That move started off with Jordan Larmour winning the ball by ripping it out of Rhys Patchell’s grasp, and it was finished thanks to clinical pop pass from James Ryan to the rampaging Fardy.

In between, Sexton cut through the defensive line, an important break to put panic in the Welsh defence, and he steps up to kick the conversion to put Leinster a long way clear.

Leinster 31 Scarlets 9

57Mins

22 points to the good and Leinster look more than happy with their lead. If you’re a Leinster fan and were on the fence about going to Bilbao, you should go ahead and book. Because the pressure continues to pile on Scarlets and they are struggling to create openings.

60Mins

TRY! Johnny Sexton is celebrating!

The out-half snuck through a gap off JGP’s pass and he thumps the air as the blue flags wave.

Leinster 38 Scarlets 9

62Mins

And that conversion was Sexton’s last act of the day. He’s done enough damage to Scarlets.

Leinster are in record-chasing territory. Nobody has scored six tries in a semi, Leinster are one away. Saracens’ 46 is the highest points total in a semi, and there are 18 minutes to get the two scores needed to eclipse that.

73Mins

The attendance of 48, 485 is called out and with 10 minutes to go, it might well be the signal for the Scarlets fans to head for the exit and find a beer garden so they can enjoy the rest of their weekend.

Nick McCarthy is on to close out the game alongside Joey Carbery… who delivers a gorgeous cross-field kick to Isa Nacewa. He can’t escape the tackle and nor can the steam-train that is Rob Kearney’s burst off his shoulder.

74Mins

Scott Fardy thought he had a sixth try, but Poite rules it out for hands in the ruck after a consult with the TMO.

No reprieve for Scarlets, who will have to pick themselves up and refocus on their title-defence next week.

76Mins

Consolation for the absence of a second try, Fardy is named man of the match. Bar an over exuberant tackle or two, the Australian has been magnificent today.

79Mins

TRY! Leinster 38 Scarlets 16 (Beirne’ 79)

The Kildare man bursts through the gap to grab the consolation.

Flag

FULL-TIME: Leinster are going to the Champions Cup final

It’s ended 38-16, Scarlets were well and truly put to the sword at the Aviva Stadium today.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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