DUBLIN (Reuters) - Leinster showed why they are Champions Cup favourites as they destroyed Scarlets 38-16 in their semi-final on Saturday to move one step away from equalling Toulouse’s record of four European titles.
The Irish province had far too much variety, relentlessly punishing the visitors out wide and up front in a ruthless display capped off by five tries from five different scorers.
“It was one of our best performances of the season, they’re a quality team. I think we showed in our performance that we learned from last year,” Leinster captain Johnny Sexton said in a pitchside interview, referring to another last four clash in Dublin a year ago when they lost to Scarlets in the Pro14.
Scarlets outclassed Leinster in that semi-final on the way to their first Pro14 championship, but the hosts were in no mood for a repeat performance.
After Leigh Halfpenny kicked the Welsh province into an early 3-0 lead, Leinster struck at the first opportunity.
The tournament’s top try scorers created a huge overlap and when Fergus McFadden lacked the gas to make it over in the corner, James Ryan, a revelation at lock for Ireland during his first Six Nations campaign, drove over from the resulting ruck.
Ryan was one of seven new faces in the pack compared to the eight who got outmuscled by the Welsh forwards last year and most of them had a go at trying to get over the Scarlets line for the second try before Cian Healy made it across.
Halfpenny tried to keep Scarlets in touch but every time he replied with three points, Leinster added another seven, doing so for the third time on the halftime whistle as more ferocious pressure up front created space for Garry Ringrose to find McFadden with a brilliant long pass for a 24-9 lead.
Scarlets, playing in their first European Cup semi-final in 11 years, simply had no answer and the onslaught continued in the second half with man of the match Scott Fardy effectively killing off the game with try number four on 50 minutes.
While they were hardly allowed to play any rugby, Scarlets were nevertheless a shadow of the exciting side that topped a group containing three-times champions Toulon.
Another try seemed inevitable and this time it was Sexton who scored to move past the 600-point mark in Europe.
Former Leinster lock Tadhg Beirne grabbed a consolation try at the death for Scarlets as the hosts eased into their first final since 2012, the only time two Irish teams have competed for the title.
It could be another all-Irish affair in Bilbao on May 12 if Leinster’s old rivals Munster can beat France’s Racing 92 in Sunday’s second semi-final.
“We came up against the best side in Europe today and they completely strangled us,” Scarlets captain Ken Owens said. “It’ll take a very good side to beat them.”
Editing by Toby Davis