The man of the match was given to James Lowe, but my pick would have been Scott Fardy, whose tackling, lineout prescence and general handling skills were great viewing.
Leinster 20 - 13 Scarlets
At the end of the first half, when Leinster were trailing by two points, Fardy’s crucial steal of the ball in a lineout on the Scarlets lead to a Lowe try in the corner. But it was not straightforward. Leinster managed to lose the ball a few moments later when the ball was stripped out of Luke McGrath’s arms. Who do you think stepped up to win it back? The second row of course. He blocked down an attempted clearance kick, reacted quickly to gather the bouncing ball, and was unlucky not to bundle the ball over the line for a try of his own. A quick ruck later and Lowe was in at the corner and Leinster took a ten points to seven lead into the half time break.
Throughout the first half Fardy was making himself a nuiscance to the opposition. He put in some crucial tackles well past the gain line to keep the Scarlets rocking backwards. His enthusiasm seems to rub off on his team mates. Leinster had looked partially asleep, as if just waking from an afternoon nap, in the first twenty minutes. All that is except Fardy. His example woke everyone up and Leinster got stuck in.
His tackle rate dropped a little in the second half, he finished with eleven tackles which is good for a lock. His overall play was still to a high standard. Lacey pinged him having consulted the TMO - the crowd, unsurprisningly did not agree, not did I - but he fixed the problem himself by stealing the ball in the lineout from the kick to touch. Pure class.
James is really turning into a crowd favourite. His flambouyant offloads were not as frequent as in previous games, but he still managed a few, not least the inside pass to Luke McGrath just as the second half began to set up a great try in the corner.
It’s not hard to understand why he got the man of the match, two great tries and involvement in a lot of moves all over the pitch, and showing his prowess under the high ball.
There may still be doubts about his defence - is he too much of a liability for big cup games? As long as he keeps scoring, you’d have to give him strong consideration.
His value, however, is not just the tries he scores, his work rate is pretty high, he got stuck in and cleared a few rucks; he comes across to me as a true team player. At every stop in play he pats his team mates on the back, congratulating, encouraging, building spirit. He really seems to be buying into the club and brings some fun to the left wing.
We will have to wait and see how bad Luke and Rory are injured. From strength in depth we are beginning to look fragile. There’s a lot of games, Six Nations and Pro 14, before Saracens come to town. A lot of chances to pick up injuries. Spring time is the real test for rugby clubs in this hemisphere.
Ross Byrne also picked up some sort of niggle. He did not look comfortable taking the conversion of the second try and after the break Ciaran Frawley took over the kicking duties. Yet while he was able to play on, he did not make a huge impression on the game.
Scarlets will be worried about Johnny McNicholl who appeared to “do a Henshaw” as the wags in the crowd muttered, injuring his shoulder in the act of scoring a fantastic try.
Tadgh Beirne was a real thorn in Leinster’s side all the way through this game, stealing ball at rucks and lineouts, reacting faster to breaking ball, and running hard, penetrating lines. He’s tall, you could mistake him for a second row; his blue scrum cap seemed to be at every breakdown.
He comes back to Ireland next season - Leinster may well regret it’s to Munster that he returns and not back to his native Blue. It is hard to understand how we let him go in the first place, and even harder to understand why he is not a part of the Ireland setup.
Granted we have plenty of strength in depth in the back row, both in Leinster and for Ireland; players of Tadgh’s quality undoubtedly want to be playing rather than warming the bench. It will not take long for him to get into the Green once home, I should just be thankful that he’s coming back and can be considered for Irish selection.
Leinster may rue allowing Scarlets a bonus point. They had an opportunity with a penalty given inside the final few minutes to push into the corner and go for a try and bonus point. Instead they took the three points on offer. The thinking was that denying the Scarlets a losing bonus point and making sure of the game was more important.
I can’t agree with this. They are the main rivals in our conference and we should have been going for a five nil match points victory. Scoring a try was the best way to deny them the bonus point. While it carried some risk, the fact that they were reduced to fourteen men for the final moments meant that the risk was low.
The referee, John Lacey, did Leinster no favours in the last few minutes, but the boys in blue will be kicking themselves that they allowed themselves to give away two penalties in the dying minutes. The Scarlet kicker, Dan Jones, fluffed the first attempt but made sure of the second, guaranteeing the losing bonus point for his team.
We plat the return fixture in only a two week’s time. Leinster’s strength in dept gives them an edge over the Scarlets, who have had a similar number of players drafted into the international setup. This is probably the reverse of what they thought, looking at the fixture list back in Setptember, when they would have loved taking off the division rivals with a depleted squad. The tables have turned.