Leinster 31 Llanelli Scarlets 25
Fly-half David Holwell warned Leicester Tigers of a penalty headache ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final visit to Lansdowne Road, as he kicked Leinster to Celtic League victory over the Scarlets at Lansdowne Road.
The New Zealander knocked over eight penalties – including a clinching brace in the final five minutes – as well as setting up and converting Denis Hickie’s sole Leinster try on 45 minutes.
Holwell’s opposite number Gareth Bowen also enjoyed a 100% place kick record but even his Good Friday bounty of five penalties, a first half drop-goal and a conversion of Tal Selley’s late score failed to prevent Llanelli’s three-game winning run from coming to an end.
Without mercurial centre duo Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy – with the latter rested as a precaution because of a hamstring strain – Declan Kidney’s men were sluggish from the off.
A silly sin-binning for Leo Cullen, with the Leinster lock carded for a swinging arm challenge on six minutes, saw Bowen duly punish him from 40 metres.
He doubled the visitors’ lead on 13 minutes before going kick for kick with Holwell over the next quarter of an hour.
Bulldozing incisions from Eric Miller and Keith Gleeson set up the Kiwi for the home side’s first points on 17 minutes and six minutes later, Kidney’s charges almost got in for an opening try.
Girvan Dempsey ran a Bowen chip through back and his pass to Hickie almost saw Holwell chip over the top for the onrushing Felipe Contepomi to score.
Credit to the Scarlets’ rearguard as they regrouped well and a Bowen drop goal, allied to his third penalty strike, handed the Welshmen a 12-9 half-time lead.
Leinster – who included six of the Ireland side who saw action at the Millennium Stadium last week – wasted little time in gaining a stranglehold on the restart.
From Holwell’s initial break, Ciaran Potts drew in one of Wales’ Grand Slam hero Mark Taylor superbly for Hickie to dart in at the left corner on 45 minutes.
Leinster then went 19-12 up before a high tackle from Contepomi saw Bowen reduce the arrears.
There was still a sting in the Scarlets’ tail at 25-15 down as a searing 68th-minute break from substitute Steve Thomas saw Selley race on to touch down a Matthew Watkins’ kick ahead.
Bowen’s conversion squared it up but Holwell’s two late successes cemented third-placed Leinster’s second league win in six days.