Leinster edge Scarlets in tense battle
PRO14 REPORT: James Lowe was at it again against Scarlets as his second-half try helped Leinster to an invaluable 22-17 win.
The New Zealander crossed for a try in the Pro14 Final last season and his brute strength paid off again here as he powered over from close-range deep in the second half to give Leo Cullen’s side a narrow win.
Leinster had opened up a ten-point lead thanks to a Rory O’Loughlin try but Scarlets fought back to level the scores after a Kieran Hardy dot down.
But Lowe made the difference by powering over ten minutes from time before Barry Daly put the game beyond doubt a couple of minutes later, despite Hardy grabbing his second of the match late on.
Scarlets had reason to be confident heading into the match. They boast a strong record at the RDS Arena and claimed a famous semifinal win their back in 2017.
But Leinster have lost just once at home in the Pro14 since and commanded a 19-point lead at the top of Conference B before kick-off.
With the Six Nations starting next week, both squads were missing players – although Rob Kearney captained Leinster and Jake Ball started for Scarlets.
However, at a wet RDS Arena it was tough going in the first half with the forwards bogged down in scrums and line-outs and the kicking game took hold.
Scarlets had the better of the early stages and will feel frustrated at not making that show on the scoreboard, with a monster tackle from Lowe forcing a Scarlets knock-on in the Leinster 22.
However, Leinster gradually got into it and scored first just past the half-hour mark through a Ciaran Fawley penalty.
That gave the home side a boost and before half-time they had the first try, with O’Loughlin muscling over from close range after good work from the Leinster forwards to set up position near the Scarlets line.
Scarlets thought they reduced the gap seconds into the second-half when wing Paul Asquith intercepted a loose Leinster pass on the half-way line and sprinted clear.
However, when he dived for the line he came up short and the ball was dislodged. Minutes later, Dan Jones missed a penalty.
Despite the missed opportunities, Scarlets were beginning to grow back into the game and they finally put something together to get back into the match.
Dan Davis sidestepped Kearney on the right and slipped a pass inside for scrumhalf Hardy to run in unopposed.
Jones, who converted, then levelled the scores with a penalty following a Leinster high tackle.
But Leinster quickly regained the momentum and took the lead when Lowe was found one-on-one on the lefty wing, where he bulldozed over Ioan Nicholas to score.
And Daly added gloss to the scoreline by dotting down a kick through before Hardy’s second set up a thrilling finale.
Tries: O’Loughlin, Lowe, Daly
Cons: Frawley 2
Tries: Hardy 2
Cons: D Jones 2
Pen: D Jones
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney (captain), 14 Barry Daly, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ciarán Frawley, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Max Deegan, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Oisín Dowling, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ioan Nicholas, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Paul Asquith, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Tom Price, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Dafydd Hughes, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Jon Evans, 22 Morgan Williams, 23 Tom Prydie.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Vincenzo Schipani (Italy)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)