In the end it wasn’t even close. Leinster showed why they started this match as favourites – playing with a pace, physicality and intensity that few clubs could live with on the day; far too hot for the Scarlets to handle.
If they can repeat this performance or, heaven help us, improve on it then it will take a masterclass from Munster/Racing’92 to prevent the Dublin club from picking up their fourth European Cup.
It is no exaggeration to say that the men in blue looked a little like the men in black; their game plan is rarely complicated but all the basics of the game are executed to near perfection, only semi-final nerves causing the odd spilled pass.
In just one example of Leinster’s speed, the Scarlets’ centre Hadleigh Parkes was caught man and ball in the midfield simply because he wanted more time than Leinster were prepared to give him. In the second half Rhys Patchell made a brilliant catch only to have Jordan Larmour strip the ball off him. It was hopelessly one-sided, the gap between the two teams a chasm.
The foundations were laid by Leinster’s big men who would pummell the Scarlets relentlessly until the Welsh defence was narrowed up, at which point the ball would be sped to the flanks which was exactly how Fergus McFadden scored Leinster’s third, crucial, try which gave his team a 24-9 half-time advantage that the Scarlets never looked like catching.
The Welsh side are famously dangerous in attack but you need to have the ball and the Scarlets were on starvation rations throughout much of this match and given the number of tackles they had been forced to make, the Welsh players were out on their feet long before the final whistle.
Jonny Sexton pulled the strings at ten like a master puppeteer, one moment bringing McFadden off his wing, the next putting in a dangerous cross-field kick that Gareth Davies was forced to carry over his own line. Robbie Henshaw has been out of action but the Irish centre looked better than ever, his miss pass sending McFadden over the line. The entire Leinster pack dominated the tight exchanges to an embarrassing extent but the back row trio deserve a special shout out with Scott Fardy the best of that bunch.
Leinster scored three first-half tries, James Ryan and Cian Healy from short range, McFadden in the right hand corner, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ryan’s try only came after a brilliant training field move from the Leinster backs with not one but two dummy runners and Ica Nacewa coming off his left wing to make the extra man.
The Scarlets were lucky to be trailing by 24-9 at the half time break, three penalties from Leigh Halfpenny their only response to Leinster’s all-round excellence.
Scarlets held Leinster at bay for a full ten minutes in the second half before Australian Fardy added to their pain with a 50th minute try, Sexton danced over the line on the hour mark and departed the Aviva a little later.
In the final two minutes the irrepressible Tadhg Beirne scored a consolation try for the Scarlets to help make the final score respectable but it was Leinster’s day.