Despite a red card for Steff Evans the Scarlets pulled off a major shock in Dublin, defeating Leinster 27-15 at the RDS.
The Scarlets became the first side in history to win a PRO12 semi-final away from home, as a magnificent performance saw them claim a deserved win.
Despite having to play over 40 minutes with just 14 men following the dismissal of Steff Evans, the Welsh side outscored their opponents by three tries to two to advance to the final, with James Davies the game’s standout player.
With the RDS crowd in fine voice, the home side made the better start, with only a forward pass denying Isa Nacewa a third-minute try.
However, it was the Scarlets who opened the scoring on eight minutes. An offload from Jonathan Davies sent John Barclay away down the wing, with the Scotland captain giving the simple pass to Steff Evans for the game’s opening score. Rhys Patchell converted, and the Welsh side led 7-0.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, it took until the 20th minute for Leinster to trouble the scorers, with Nacewa slotting a penalty from 35 metres.
The pressure was beginning to build for the home side, and it told just three minutes later. Jack Conan’s offload allowed Garry Ringrose to cross for the score, with Nacewa’s conversion giving his side the lead for the first time on the night.
The Scarlets’ response was immediate. A piston of a fend from Aaron Shingler saw the flanker race over, Patchell converting to restore their advantage.
It was to get even better for the visitors just minutes later. Scott Williams, James Davies and Steff Evans all combined to send Gareth Davies under the posts for a tremendous score, Patchell once again adding the extras.
However, a memorable first-half performance was marred by a red card to Steff Evans, as the winger was given his marching orders for a dangerous tackle on Ringrose two minutes before the interval.
With the score poised at 21-10 to the visitors as the sides retook the field, the first score of the second period held extra importance. The game took on a frenetic edge, as Leinster’s measured attack was repelled by the Scarlets’ rearguard action.
The breakthrough arrived on 63 minutes. An overthrown lineout from the Scarlets allowed Leinster to set up field position five metres from the tryline, before Jack Conan barrelled his way over the whitewash. Nacewa, though, surprisingly hit the post with the conversion, leaving Leo Cullen’s men still in need of a converted try.
However, with 10 minutes to go, the Scarlets were awarded a penalty within goalkicking range. With Patchell having been substituted earlier in the half, it fell to Liam Williams to extend the Scarlets’ lead to nine points.
Despite almost exclusively controlling possession, Leinster could not find the killer touch, as the Scarlets resilient defence and dogged work at the breakdown kept their hosts at bay. With time almost up, another penalty went the way of the Scarlets at the breakdown, and Liam Williams made no mistake from straight in front to secure their place in the PRO12’s showpiece event.
Tries: Ringrose, Conan
Tries: S Evans, A Shingler, G Davies
Cons: Patchell 3
Pens: L Williams 2
Red Card: S Evans
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa (c), 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Zane Kirchner
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay (c), 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 DTH van der Merwe
Date: Friday, May 19
Venue: RDS, Dublin
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)