Leinster celebrate Scott Fardy’s try as Scarlets despair
European Champions Cup semi-final: Leinster v Scarlets
Leinster (24) 38
Tries: Ryan, Healy, McFadden, Fardy, Sexton Cons: Sexton 5 Pen: Sexton
Scarlets (9) 16
Tries: Beirne Con: Patchell Pens: Halfpenny
Leinster surged into the Champions Cup final with a stunning dismantling of Scarlets in Dublin.
The Irish province made a blistering start as tries from James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden gave them a 24-9 half-time lead.
Scott Fardy and Johnny Sexton underlined their dominance and Tadhg Beirne scored Scarlets’ consolation.
Leigh Halfpenny earlier kicked three penalties, but Scarlets were otherwise helpless against unstoppable Leinster.
Unerringly accurate and ruthlessly clinical, Leinster played near-perfect rugby at times as they took a major stride towards a fourth Champions Cup title.
Their victory also keeps alive the possibility of an all-Irish final as Munster face Racing 92 in Bordeaux on Sunday.
Brilliant Leinster champions in waiting?
Leinster’s Fergus McFadden beats Steff Evans to scorePowered by the bulk of this year’s Irish Grand Slam winners, Leinster are aiming to become only the second team – after Saracens in 2016 – to win every match of a victorious Champions Cup campaign.
They had already beaten title holders Saracens in the quarter-finals, and that after dominating a pool which included Exeter, Glasgow and Montpellier, each of whom are currently top of the English Premiership, Pro14 and French Top14 respectively.
The Irish province also carried with them the experience of winning this competition three times in nine years, and they flexed their considerable muscle with a high-octane start.
An abrasive pack set the tone, with Ryan, Devin Toner, Fardy and others carrying forcefully and, on the rare occasions their opponents had the ball, tackling ferociously.
Much like Ireland did during their Six Nations victory over Wales at the same venue in February, Leinster monopolised possession and capitalised on their superiority with patience and intelligence.
After forcing the Scarlets on to the back foot, Leinster made the first break of the game through McFadden and, although the wing was stopped short of the line, Ryan was on hand to boulder his way over the line.
Leinster pressure came in waves and, although Halfpenny’s penalties gave the Scarlets faint hope, another sequence of relentless Irish phase play resulted in a try for prop Healy from close range.
Brute force was not limited to forwards, as centre Robbie Henshaw hurtled into the visitors’ midfield like a cannonball, making a mockery of the fact he had not played since injuring his shoulder in February.
Henshaw and fellow Ireland centre Garry Ringrose epitomised Leinster’s almost robotic accuracy, which helped the hosts pull further clear as McFadden touched down in the corner for his side’s third try on the cusp of half-time.
Although still in total control, Leinster exerted their dominance in a different manner after the break, with the excellent Sexton putting Scarlets’ backs under intense pressure with a series of well-aimed high kicks.
Those towering punts gave Leinster the field position to score a fourth try through Australia flanker Fardy and then from Sexton himself, slicing through at the corner.
This was as complete a team display as you could wish for from the former champions and, on this evidence, it will take an exceptional performance from Racing 92 or Munster to deny Leinster a fourth European title.
Scarlets left to lick their wounds
Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes looks for a gap against LeinsterBefore they were confronted by this Leinster juggernaut, Scarlets had been a little more confident than most teams would be travelling to take on the best team in Europe in their own city.
When they faced Leinster in last season’s Pro12 semi-final at the RDS, the Welsh side had wing Steff Evans sent off in the first half, but claimed a memorable 25-17 victory before going on to thrash Munster in the final at Aviva Stadium.
Whereas their recent history in Dublin was favourable, however, the Scarlets had unhappy memories of this stage in the competition, having lost all three of their previous European semi-finals.
This was their first last-four appearance since 2007 and, in truth, they never looked like securing that elusive first final.
Wayne Pivac’s men were overwhelmed by Leinster’s power and ruthlessness in the first half, while they were worn down by Sexton’s towering high kicks – chased tirelessly by his team-mates – in the second half.
This was a chastening experience for Scarlets and, now their European dream is over for another season, they must turn their attention back to domestic matters and a defence of their Pro14 crown.
Leinster: R Kearney; McFadden, Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, Fardy, Leavy, J Murphy.
Replacements: Tracy, J McGrath, Porter, Molony, Conan, McCarthy, Carbery, Larmour.
Scarlets: Patchell; Halfpenny, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; D Jones, G Davies, R Evans, Owens (capt), Lee, Beirne, Bulbring, Shingler, J Davies, Barclay.
Replacements: Elias, D Evans, Kruger, Rawlins, Cummins, A Davies, Hughes, Boyde.
Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (Fra), Pierre Brousset (Fra)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (Fra)
Citing commissioner: Shaun Gallagher (Eng)