HARLEQUINS sealed qualification for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a convincing win over a stubborn Connacht at the Stoop.
Leinster rediscovered their try-scoring touch with a bonus-point win over the Scarlets which keeps their Heineken Cup hopes alive.
The reigning champions remain in contention for the quarter-finals, ahead of the second part of their rescue mission away to Exeter on Saturday, where they need another bonus-point victory.
The home side had only scored three tries in their four previous pool games but first-half touchdowns from Cian Healy, Shane Jennings and man-of-the-match Luke Fitzgerald saw Leinster sweep into a 19-6 lead.
Scarlets full-back Liam Williams crossed for a five-pointer before the break, only for his opposite number Rob Kearney to reply with the all-important bonus-point score. Ian Madigan came off the bench to grab a fifth try in the final minute.
Winless in Europe this season, the Scarlets came to Dublin looking for a January jolt and Aled Thomas landed the opening points from a third-minute penalty set up by a powerful carry from Sione Timani.
Leinster turned down a shot at the posts as they hunted for the game’s first try, using the lineout to launch a series of close-in carries. The move paid dividends as prop Healy used ruck ball to worm his way over from a metre out. Jonathan Sexton converted but a snap drop goal from Liam Williams made it a one-point game.
Leinster’s response was familiar, shunning a penalty kick in favour of going up the line. Their usually reliable lineout let them down initially but a midfield link-up between Sean Cronin and Sexton got the hosts back firing. Then set piece ball closer in provided the platform for the maul from which flanker Jennings muscled over for try number two. Sexton missed the conversion.
Leinster’s improved accuracy with ball in hand saw them swiftly create another try-scoring chance as Healy and Fergus McFadden both went close. The Llanelli men leaked a scrum penalty and the tackle count took its toll as Healy offloaded for Devin Toner to send
winger Fitzgerald in at the left corner. Sexton followed up with the conversion.
But the Scarlets got an ideal response in first-half injury time with Liam
Williams going over unchallenged after Scott Williams delivered a crafty cross-field kick.
Leinster were ominously direct right from the off in the second period and made certain of the bonus point just four minutes in. Heaslip peeled away to the right from a scrum in the 22, with Kearney collecting his offload, breaking the first tackle and spinning out of a second to score under the posts.
Sexton converted for a 26-11 scoreline and, with Gordon D’Arcy and Fitzgerald growing in influence, the province continued to plug away for scores.
The tough tackling Timani led the Scarlets’ resistance and Thomas kicked a 57th-minute penalty as the visitors remained competitive.
In a ragged final quarter, Leinster slackened in terms of creating scoring chances as the Welshmen defended doggedly to the last. But the home side’s patience paid off late on as Madigan’s quick feet took him past two defenders, and he drop-kicked the conversion to complete the scoring.