The Scarlets Celtic League ambitions were seriously dented after a painful defeat to Leinster at Lansdowne Road last night, despite producing one of the best halves of rugby as they hit the Irish giants with three stunning tries to lead 19-7 at half-time.
Leinster roared back to level the scores before Girvan Dempsey's late try robbed the Scarlets of a crucial victory in the title race over fellow contenders.
The Scarlets had been forced to make wholesale changes from the side that ran out for last week's Powergen Cup Final with three games in eight days, and three of those new faces responded as Iestyn Thomas, Lee Byrne and Gavin Thomas all went over during a first-half Scarlets blitz.
Iestyn Thomas gave the Scarlets the perfect start when he rumbled over with the rest of the pack from Vernon Cooper's lineout after just seven minutes. Leinster replied through Cameron Jowitt through but the Scarlets were in the mood to run their hosts ragged and their endeavour was rewarded.
Regan King and Mark Jones combined cleverly to send Byrne sailing over on 20 minutes. Former All Black King then sent Gavin Thomas over with lofted pass after Chris Wyatt and Popham went close.
The Scarlets struggled to match Leinster's intensity after the break and when Popham was sin binned for a professional foul, the home side took the lead through Brian Blaney and Guy Easterby. Cerion Thomas kept his cool to level the scores, 22-22, with a penalty but a cruel bounce caught out Dafydd James by Denis Hickie's kick and Dempsey settled the match two minutes from time.
Leinster (7) 30
Tries: Jowitt, B Blaney, Easterby, Dempsey
Cons: Contepomi 2
Pens: Contepomi 2
Scarlets (19) 22
Tries: Thomas, Byrne, G Thomas
Cons: C Thomas 2
Pens: C Thomas
Leinster: Girvan Dempsey, Rob Kearney, Braina O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie, Felipe Contepomi, Guy Easterby, Reggie Corrigan, Brian Blaney, Will Green, Bryce Williams, Malcolm O'Kelly, Cameron Jowitt, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Emmett Byrne, David Blaney, Niall Ronan, Eric Miller, Brian O'Riordan, John Hepworth, Kieran Lewis
Scarlets: Lee Byrne; Dafydd James (capt), Matthew Watkins, Regan King, Mark Jones; Ceiron Thomas, Clive Stuart-Smith, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Craig Dunlea, Vernon Cooper, Chris Wyatt, Dafydd Jones, Gavin Thomas, Alix Popham
Replacements: Martyn Madden, Aled Gravelle, Francois Lowe, Gavin Quinnell, Liam Davies, Gareth Bowen, Barry Davies