Scarlets 23, Leinster 13: Matt O’Connor is adamant this defeat in west Wales has not done major damage to Leinster’s Guinness Pro12 title aspirations.
The champions dropped out of the top-four places as they were outscored by three tries to one at Parc y Scarlets, despite being able to boast 12 of Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations squad within their 23-man matchday line-up.
With a home encounter against leaders Glasgow looming, plus a trip to face Ulster among the five remaining fixtures, the province look in danger of missing out on the semi-final shake-up.
But head coach O’Connor insists this result will not prove a defining moment, despite his anger at having a late try for Zane Kirchner ruled out for blocking — although it must be said the South African also appeared to fail to ground the ball — ensuring there was no losing bonus point.
He said: “There are five games to go and every point will be at a premium and it is going to be very tight. There are a lot of teams to play each other in that top five.
“The result was disappointing and the performance was disappointing but what that does to the top four is irrelevant with five games remaining.
“There is a fair bit of chopping and changing to work out. It is a tighter league than we have seen for a while so it is about accumulating as many points as you can and seeing where it leaves you.
“Post-Six Nations, with our blokes back in our environment, we will be happy to go anywhere and win. We have got a European quarter-final and depending on what happens there, we will focus on the league.”
O’Connor was annoyed at the chalking off of Kirchner’s try, calling for neutral officials in the Pro12 after the Welsh video referee Tim Hayes decided Michael Bent had blocked Ken Owens off the ball.
“It has to be looked at how it is put together across the board because with meritocracy (European qualification), everything is important,” O’Connor said.
The visitors spent most of the first half under the cosh against a Scarlets outfit desperate to take advantage of Connacht’s defeat at Cardiff Blues and close the gap in the chase for Champions Cup qualification.
Yet they led 10-8 at the break thanks to Ben Teo’s first try in Leinster colours, plus a conversion and penalty from Jimmy Gopperth. But there was no stopping the Welsh side in the second half as well-worked scores for Jordan Williams and Rory Pitman added to a first-half try from the outstanding number eight John Barclay, with Steven Shingler and Rhys Priestland kicking their remaining points.
It made for uncomfortable viewing for O’Connor and company, but one of the few crumbs of comfort was Te’o’s performance in midfield. In addition to his try, claimed thanks to a brilliant angle of Gopperth’s flat pass, the Auckland-born former rugby league star showed good footwork in attack and defended solidly against a firing Scarlets pairing of Scott Williams and Regan King.
There was also the welcome sight of Cian Healy in Leinster blue for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. “Cian needed the minutes, he has got a bit of growth to do on his repeatability and his fitness but he is a threat with ball in hand,” said O’Connor. “He scrummaged well without quite getting dominance but it was great to see him run around.”
Scorers for Scarlets: Tries – J Barclays, J Williams, R Pitman, Conversion – Shingler, Penalties – Singler, Priestland.
Scorers for Leinster: Try – B Te’o, Conversion – Gopperth, Penalties – Gopperth 2.
SCARLETS: J Williams; H Robinson, R King (R Priestland 61), S Williams, H Parkes; S Shingler (A Warren 71), A Davies (G Davies 77); P John (W Jones 56), K Owens (R Elias 31-35), P Edwards (J Adriaanse 57), G Earle (J Payne 61), J Snyman (R Pitman 54), L Rawlins, J Davies, J Barclay.
LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; F McFadden (D Kearney 65), B Te’o, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan (I Boss 68); C Healy (M Bent 74), S Cronin (R Strauss 70), M Moore (Furlong 54), M McCarthy (T Denton 65), K Douglas, R Ruddock, D Ryan (J van der Flier 68), J Conan.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).
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