Leinster 16 Scarlets 27: And, just like that that, Leinster’s season is over.
They were contemplating a double less than a month ago but they were complicit in their own downfall in this Guinness Pro12 semi-final last night, just as they had been in France last month when Clermont Auvergne had their number in Europe.
None of which should overshadow Scarlets who were magnificent.
The scale of their achievement is astonishing. This was Leinster’s first loss at at the RDS in the Guinness Pro12 since the Dragons did for them in February of 2015. And, as everyone knows, this was the first time a home team had ever been beaten at the league’s semi-final stage.
Munster and Ospreys will both have taken note of that.
Scarlets fronted up in Dublin on the back of five straight wins, the last of them a 40-17 destruction of Ospreys at Parc Y Scarlets which one local writer rated as the best he’d seen since the club made the move from the iconic Stradey Park late in 2008.
Form is one thing though, tradition another and the visitors were undeniably green in terms of play-off experience. This was just their second such outing since winning the Celtic League in 2004 and a first since losing to Ulster three years ago.
They started without injured hooker and captain Ken Owens and lock Jake Ball but with a sense of hope that echoed off the hundred or so red-clad fans who huddled together on the South Terrace. Leinster, meanwhile, had lost Sean O’Brien from their bench to a tight calf.
He must have been fuming sitting in the stands because what unfolded was a class of game that had pretty much everything. The first 40 minutes alone threw up four tries, a red card and a host of other snapshots that would have earned top billing another night.
Key to it all was the visitors.
If defence is the foundation of any team then theirs was rock solid. Their speed off the line was exceptional. Jonathan Sexton was hit time and again on the back foot, so too Isa Nacewa and a few others. The pressure was incessant.
Add to that a scintillating attacking game and the Welsh were in business. Steffan Evans, Aaron Shingler and Gareth Davies all ran over for five-pointers in the first period, each of them at a canter after the home defence had long since been burned off.
It was gob-smacking stuff; red shirts appearing through the Leinster line like galloping horses through a mist. They broke down the tramlines and they punched holes in the centre of the home rearguard with all three tries converted.
Leinster had actually started efficiently with a Nacewa try called back after just four minutes for a forward pass from Sexton. The Irish out-half could smile at that misfortune but their accuracy failed the favourites for long spells on the back of it.
Handling and passing errors began to mount but they got off the mark after Evans’ try with a penalty from Nacewa who took the goal-kicking duties after Sexton careered into contact seconds before with a kick return.
Four minutes later and the hosts had a try. Garry Ringrose, sensational on the night, got to finish off a simply wonderful first-phase planned move off a lineout but Scarlets had tries number two and three registered within another seven minutes.
Rhys Patchell’s third conversion left it 21-10 to the region and, though it stayed that way through the break, they made for the tunnel a man down after Steffan Evans was shown red for a tip tackle on Ringrose a handful of minutes earlier.
Intent was debatable but rules are rules regardless. The winger had to go.
It didn’t pay any immediate dividends. More basic errors made the resultant penalty inside the Scarlets 22 moot and Leinster, who utilised the maul more while tweaking little else in their play, continued to struggle for momentum on the restart.
The third quarter passed without another addition to the scoreboard — a circumstance that suited the Scarlets very nicely indeed. Jamison Gibson-Park kicked straight into touch, so did Sexton. Joe Carbery got turned over again. All of it so frustrating.
It was a Scarlets error that let them in again.
An overthrown lineout by Ryan Elias on his own 22 found its way to James Tracy who carried to within a sniff of the line. Dan Leavy made the second push and Jack Conan made it over with the third. Then Nacewa went and missed the simple conversion.
Not what was required with 15 to go.
A six-point deficit slipped back out to nine when Liam Williams sent over a penalty with 10 minutes to go and any doubt as to the result had long since passed by the time the Wales winger added another with 60 seconds to go.
Extraordinary stuff. And utterly deserved.
J Carbery; A Byrne, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, J Tracy, T Furlong; R Molony, H Triggs; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan.
C Healy for J McGrath (10); J Gibson-Park for L McGrath (23); D Leavy for Ruddock (47); D Toner for Triggs (51); M Bent for Furlong (61); R Strauss for Tracy (70); Z Kirchner for Ringrose (74); R Byrne for Sexton (79).
J McNichol; L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, R Elias, S Lee; L Rawlins, T Beirne; A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.
J Evans for G Davies (51); W Jones for R Evans (56); H Parkes for Patchell (61); W Boyde for Barclay (63); W Kruger for Lee and D Bulbring for Rawlins (both 65); E Phillips for Elias (71); DTH van der Merwe for Davies (79).
M Mitrea (FIR).
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