The last time Leinster faced Scarlets at the Aviva – just a mere three weeks ago – they dismissed the current Pro 14 Champions on their way to European glory but there’s good reason to believe that this rematch in the Pro 14 final today can be a lot closer.
The 38-16 defeat they inflicted upon Scarlets three weeks ago was as impressive a performance as they’ve given all season, but since then Leinster have had two gut-busting efforts, first in defeating Racing in the Champions Cup final and then when scraping home against Munster at the RDS last week.
Had Munster landed a missed penalty or a missed conversion it would be another rematch of last season’s final and Scarlets will note how they can improve on the accuracy of passing out wide that Munster gave in their semi, with some notable attacking situations going awry last week.
Scott Williams and Hadleigh Parkes are consummate creators who know how to find Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans with super accurate passes and the boot of Leigh Halfpenny will be crucial for point scoring today.
Scarlets may be feeling the burn of Scotscoun’s pitch, but they were superb in their semi-final win against a Glasgow side that topped Conference A by six points and had been previously unbeaten at home and this route to the final has been ideal for them. Defeat in the European semi-final combined with a quarter final place gave them a chance to hit form with a romp against the Cheetahs and that set them up for a perfect performance last week.
Whilst there has been no slouching, they will face a Leinster side with less physical edge than three weeks ago for all that Leo Cullen can call upon Dan Leavy, Robert Kearney and ever so crucially Johnny Sexton for this game after skipping the semi-final.
Leinster will once again look to work from the breakdown, disrupting quick clear out from Tadhg Beirne as they did so well three weeks ago, and it can’t be forgotten how many weapons they have – James Lowe was exceptional for them last week in the wide channel and a linking up with Sexton promises great things – but small margins can make big differences in rugby and it will be much harder for them to snap at the heels of half-backs Gareth Davies and Rhys Patchell.
Leinster are the rightful favourites, but they have done the European and league double only once in recent times and Scarlets can stay within 11 points.
2.5 pts Scarlets +11 (10/11 SkyBet)