Leinster 36 Scarlets 19
The good news was not just that Leinster pushed into second place in the RaboDirect Pro12 with this bonus point win, but that the iconic Brian O’Driscoll will be available to lead their Heineken Cup charge at Franklin’s Gardens next weekend.
All but Fergus McFadden of the Irish international contingent will be available for selection and, by his own admission, the biggest problem facing coach Matt O’Connor now will be who to leave out of his starting XV.
“Yeah, it’s a good problem to have,” he said. “We have guys who played very well for us through this international period. We’ve had guys who went away and represented Ireland and played good footie so it will be a tough call next week.
“Brian, he has been in the environment all week and he will play. Rob [Kearney] too, all of the test guys except for Fergus.”
Marty Moore and Shane Jennings shipped knocks during Saturday’s match but O’Connor has no doubts over their availability: “They’re pretty good, it was precautionary, it was a good opportunity to give them time.”
Leo Cullen was amongst those given time and he marked his return with a strong display that will have impressed the new coach.
In general, O’Connor was pleased, even if there were times when Leinster frustrated the fans, particularly in an error-strewn second half. Having led 22-0 at the break, the supporters expected a rout but Scarlets won the second half.
“Unfortunately,” said Easterby, “you can’t give a quality side like Leinster a lead like that and expect to pull it back.”
But if Leinster’s defence was opened up three times in that frustrating last 40, O’Connor was inclined to forgive, if not forget.
“We started the game really well. The three tries we scored in the first half to their none was a good result for us. We probably lost our way when we didn’t take the opportunities we had in the second half which was disappointing. But they were always going to play and keep playing.”
A sense of anxiety leading up to Saturday’s big Heineken Cup date?
“No. [There was] a certain amount of inaccuracy, a lot of blokes being reintegrated and a couple of poor decisions in the second half that we should have executed better, but full credit to the Scarlets, they kept playing to the death and got rewards in the end.”
O’Connor did concede the tempo would have to rise this weekend.
“Yeah, we’ve got to be better across the board than we were tonight. The Heineken Cup is a different level totally. You won’t get away with the inaccuracies and not taking opportunities against a side as good as Northampton.”
For a team that didn’t see the ball in the first five minutes, Leinster enjoyed a remarkably successful start. Ian Madigan kicked them into an eighth minute lead and provided the final pass for the first try from Brendan Macken.
Leinster followed that up with a penalty try and Madigan converted for a 15-point advantage inside the opening quarter.
Jack McGrath got the third and Madigan converted to push the lead out to 22 and then they brilliantly defended that lead through four agonising minutes up to half time after Cullen was shown yellow for a ruck infringement.
Scrum half Gareth Davies grabbed a 47th minute try just seconds before Cullen’s return and Leinster conceded a second breakaway score to Gareth Maule that Aled Thomas converted.
But Eoin Reddan restored calm, nipping in for the bonus point try that Madigan converted to push the lead back out to 17 points at 29-12, and Zane Kirchner rounded off a fine display by scoring the fifth just four minutes from the end. Madigan nailed the conversion from the touchline although the Scarlets had the last say with a third try from centre Adam Warren that was converted by Aled Thomas.
LEINSTER: Z Kirchner, L Tuqiri, B Macken, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald, I Madigan, E Reddan, J McGrath, A Dundon, M Moore, L Cullen, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, J Murphy, S Jennings (captain).
Replacements: M Ross for Moore (23, injured), D Ryan for Jennings (55, inj), S Cronin for Dundon, J Gopperth for D’Arcy (both 60), M Bent for J McGrath, L McGrath for Reddan, D Fanning for Fitzgerald (all 63), T Denton for McCarthy (67).
LLANELLI SCARLETS: G Owen, N Reynolds, G Maule, A Warren, F Climo, A Thomas, G Davies, P John (captain), K Myhill, J Adriaanse, J Ball, J Snyman, A Shingler, S Timani, J Barclay.
Replacements:J Williams for Owen (23, injured), E Phillips for Myhill, R Evans for John, H Pungea for Adriaanse (all 40), J Lewis for Maule (60, inj), R Kelly for Snyman, A Davies for G Davies (both 60), J Turnbull for Timani (77).
Referee: I Davies (Wales)
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