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Published: 17:44 | 21/4/18

Sexton: It was one of our best performances


“It was one of our best performances this season,” was how Johnny Sexton described Leinster’s impressive 38-16 hammering of Scarlets in their Champions Cup semi-final clash at Aviva Stadium.

Leinster ran in five tries in Dublin 4 to crush their Welsh opponents and book their spot in the 12 May showpiece decider in Bilbao. 

Scarlets had beaten Leinster 27-15 in the Pro 12 semi-finals in the RDS last year, on their way to the overall title, with victory over Munster in the final at the Aviva. And Sexton admitted that defeat was a stimulus in Leinster's dominant performance today. 

"They're a quality team. It was important that we looked at last season's performance against them and learnt from it," continued Sexton. "I think it showed in our performance that we really did learn from that game. And we'll maybe look back at that game in Dublin last year as a turning point for us as a group.

"Defeats hurt and it was important for the younger lads to learn, but also for the older lads. We hadn't tasted semi-final defeat ever - some of us. And I said to the lads before the game "we needed to play well" and that's what we did. I said "if we played well, we'd have a chance" and luckily we did that."

Man of the match Scott Fardy cited Leinster's setpiece and defence as the bedrock for the victory.

"I think out setpiece was really strong and obviously our defence held out," commented Fardy 

"We defended really well, I thought, and got some opportunities on the back of that.

"It's exciting to be a part of [the team] at the moment. The guys have so much talent now, you wonder what they're going to be like in the future."

Scarlets broke the deadlock in Dublin with Leigh Halfpenny landing a beautifully struck penalty from distance in a sunny and warm Lansdowne Road.

The lead was short lived as James Ryan bounced out of a tackle a metre from the Scarlets line before outmuscling two further Welsh defenders to touch down over the tryline, with Sexton slotting the extra two points from the tee.

Sexton and Halfpenny exchanged pleasantries from the tee as the game's entered the second quarter with little between the teams as they went nip and tuck in most aspects of the tie.

But the pressure was clearly more on Scarlets shoulders with Dan Leavy going over a try that was called back for a previous infringement, before Leinster went again and did go over for a second try, with Belvedere College product Cian Healy the man to touch down, after Leinster had gone through the phases in the 22 close to the Scarlets line, with Fardy contributing with a superb offload on the cusp of the whitewash. Again Sexton was successful from the tee as the Irish province opened up some daylight between the sides.

A third Halfpenny penalty came soon after and it was vital as Scarlets clung into the tie. However, the pressure continued to mount on the Scarlets tryline with an overlap being eventually worked by Leinster down the right flank and Fergus McFadden going over in that window of space. A Sexton conversion sent them into the break with a commanding 24-9 lead. It was also the last of the action for McFadden, who made way for Jordan Larmour, having shipped what looked like a dead leg as he went over for the try. 

A fourth try came ten minutes into the second half, with Fardy – who was imperious throughout – finishing off another Leinster passing move. Again Sexton converted and the Irish side were out of sight.

Any hopes of the mother of all comebacks were well and truly put to bed when Leinster put 12 phases together, before Sexton sidestepped into space in the opposition five-metre area, before sprinting over and converting himself.

Former Leinster man, Tadhg Beirne, broke the line to cross for a late consolation for the Welsh side, which Rhys Patchell converted, but the day very much belonged to his former side, who were by quite some distance the better outfit.

Munster face Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup semi-final at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux on Sunday, 22 April, live on BT Sport 3 on the eir Sport pack [kick-off 3.15pm Irish time].

Image: Inpho/ David Rogers

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