With the curtain closed on the regular season and the Scarlets deservedly finishing in third in the Pro12, the Scarlet Army travel to Dublin for the first Semi Final against second placed Leinster.
Possibly the biggest game in Parc y Scarlets’ history, the Scarlets have a real chance at finally bringing some silverware back to the Parc as they aim to be the first team to win an away semifinal fixture. Buoyed by the return of James ‘Cubby Boi’ Davies, the Welsh Region are unfortunately without Jake Ball who is suffering from a shoulder injury, along with inspirational Skipper, Ken Owens who is having the season of his life.
A huge Scarlet following made the trip to the RDS hopeful that for the first time in 10 long years the underdogs would gain themselves another Dublin trip at the end of the month for the final.
It was a nervous start for the Scarlets as they struggled to get their hands on any possession in the opening minutes, however a forward pass saved an early try as Nacewa crossed in the corner despite the shrill tone of the referee’s whistle.
However, it was the Scarlets that got the first point on the board. Excellent hands from Captain John Barclay and Jonathan Davies saw the League’s top try scorer, Steff Evans cross for number 12. Rhys Patchell added the conversion to give the visitors an early 7-point lead.
With Johnny Sexton taking a knock it was left to Captain Nacewa to attempt the first points for the home team as the Scarlets were penalised for not releasing the ball. His effort sailed through the posts to narrow the gap to 3 points to 7.
It was not only in attack that the Scarlets demonstrated their skills – a loose pass saw Luke McGrath charge for line, only to be stopped in his tracks by a superb cover tackle from Steffan Evans. Not to be outdone, his fellow Wing Liam Williams stripped the ball to allow Gareth Davies to clear.
Unfortunately, Leinster took full advantage of their line-out as Garry Ringrose crossed for his side’s first try. Necawa added the conversion to give the home side the lead for the first time- 10 points to 7.
The Scarlets were having none of it though as Aaron Shingler possibly emulated his try of the season against the Ospreys has he crossed under the posts. Patchell added a quick drop goal conversion (possibly to ensure there was no TMO??) to put the Scarlets back in the lead – 10 points to 14.
As the game reached the half hour mark, the RDS became almost shell-shocked as super handling from the Scarlets backs saw Steff Evans offload to Gareth Davies who crossed for try number three. Patchell again added the conversion and increased the Scarlets’ lead to 10 points to 21.
Unfortunately for Steff Evans a very very unlucky tackle on Ringrose saw the referee have no real option but the red card the Wing resulting in the Scarlets being a man down for a whole half of rugby as the half ended Leinster 10 – Scarlets 21.
The second half began a long 40 minutes for the men in red as Leinster kept ball in hand and resorted to their trusty drive from the line-out in order to gain the hard yards, though at least initially it lacked its usual effectiveness.
The heroic defending from the Scarlets managed to keep Leinster out for an incredible 24 minutes until Jack Conan managed to squeeze in for his side’s second try of the evening. Crucially, the rushed conversion was missed and the Scarlets somehow managed to hold on to a 6-point lead – 15 points to 21.
With Rhys Patchell, much to his disgust, off the pitch, the Scarlets had to rely on the kicking boot of Liam ‘Sanjay’ Williams to put the visitors two scores ahead once more as the Scarlets were awarded a penalty. A huge kick from Sanjay saw the Scarlets increase their lead once more to 15 points to 24 as the game neared the final 10 minutes.
Huge pressure from the home team saw former Leinster player Tahj Beirne gain a crucial penalty against his former side as the clock ticked down to the final whistle and surprisingly, errors crept into the Leinster attack.
Despite the amount of possession, and with a man advantage, unbelievably the RDS faithful began leaving in droves as the Scarlets proved that sometimes, playing without the ball is just as important as the skills displayed with the ball.
With just minutes left on the clock, Liam Williams’ boot was called upon once more to secure a historic victory….no team has ever won an away semi final let alone in the fortress that is the RDS against a Leinster team that has lost to just one Welsh region this season – the Scarlets in Parc y Scarlets. Again, Liam was on target with his kick and with just seconds remaining of the game sealed the win for the Scarlets with a final score of 15 points to 27.
A historic victory from a historic matchday squad that gave their all. It wasn’t just the win itself but the way in which the Scarlets dug deep and played a whole half of rugby with 14 men. Tomorrow Munster play against the Ospreys to decide who the Scarlets’ opponents will be for the finals. At the beginning of the season, with the Scarlets starting with a 3-match losing streak, there was little hope of an all-Welsh final. How nice it would be to thrash the Ospreys twice in a month!!!!
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