Pro14 final: Scarlets and Leinster provide a fitting final

Johnny Sexton and Leinster celebrate
Leinster won the 2017-18 Champions Cup to claim Europe's top club tournament for a record-equalling fourth time
Pro14 final
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 26 May Kick-off: 18:00 BST
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app.

It is in many ways the dream Pro14 final.

The tournament's defending champions against the newly-crowned European kings. Scarlets and Leinster going head to head at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.

One side is looking to retain their title, the other aiming to become the first team to achieve the European Cup and Pro14 double in the same season.

So the stage is set.

Banishing the demons

Leinster celebrate Scott Fardy's try as Scarlets despair
Leinster celebrate Scott Fardy's try as Scarlets despair during the Champions Cup semi-final in April 2017

Scarlets' first test will be to erase the memories of losing to the same opposition at the same venue just a month ago.

And not just losing. Wayne Pivac's side were humbled by the Leinster power, with the Irish side celebrating a convincing 38-16 win in the Champions Cup semi-final.

Leinster were brutally brilliant that day. They outmuscled and out-thought a stunned Scarlets side who had travelled to Ireland with realistic expectations of victory.

The fearsome forwards laid the foundation and Ireland and British and Irish Lions outside-half Johnny Sexton pulled the strings behind.

It was a harsh lesson cruelly learned as the Scarlets' European dream came crashing down and Pivac hopes history will not repeat itself this weekend.

"We have to fire some shots this time, it's as simple as that," said Pivac.

Wayne Pivac looks pensive
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has been tipped to succeed fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland as Wales coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup

"We were completely outplayed. We have to try and win the gainline and collisions.

"We have to be a lot more physical than we were. They beat us across the park last time around.

"We've got to make sure we bring the physicality that was lacking in that semi-final and are in the contest for longer periods than we were.

"I'd be surprised if the boys don't make a better fist of it than the last time."

'Broken' after semi-final

Some soul searching followed before the Scarlets squad regrouped. Three victories against Dragons, Cheetahs and Glasgow have followed on the way to a second successive Pro14 final.

Burns and blisters followed in the semi-final win on the artificial surface at Glasgow, but the Scarlets are revived ahead of the showpiece finale as they bid to become only the second side to retain the title.

Predictably, the only team to have achieved back-to-back titles in the competition are Leinster in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

"We are feeling good in terms of petrol in the tank and mentally great," said Pivac.

"We've come through that run in Europe as well as the Pro14. We are in a stronger mental state than we were this time last year."

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Johnny McNicholl hopes no more artificial surfaces are introduced to rugby after he and his team mates suffered burns against Glasgow

Wales wing Steff Evans summed up the Scarlets revival: "We were broken after that semi-final defeat but since then we have been building back to where we were.

"After the Leinster loss, we got together in a team meeting and said we have to get the belief back.

"The memories are stuck in the boys' heads. This is motivation to get out there and right the wrongs of Europe."

Leinster have not been resting on their laurels since overpowering the Scarlets. The Irish province have lifted the European crown and defeated Munster in the Pro14 semi-final as they stayed on course for a double.

"You don't go through unbeaten in Europe without being a class act, we are talking world class," said Pivac.

"You've just got to look at how many Irish players they've got in their side who have just won a Grand Slam.

"It's a massive challenge but a great game. Last year's champions up against the European winners.

"What a match-up. If you want to win, you want to beat the best.

"We are getting that opportunity this weekend."

Home advantage?

Leinster are again playing a big final in their home city of Dublin, albeit at the national Aviva Stadium rather than their Royal Dublin Showground home.

Although it might not strictly be a 'neutral' venue, Dublin has also been a haven for Scarlets - especially last year where they won twice to clinch the title.

They defeated Leinster in the semi-final at the RDS before overawing Munster at the Aviva to prompt wild celebrations.

It represented a remarkable run in the spring sunshine with the awesome attacking game typified by outrageous offloads and scything line breaks.

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Pro12 final highlights: Munster 22-46 Scarlets

"It took a bit of time to develop our game last year," said Pivac.

"Then the weather comes and you can play more expansive rugby.

"If you look at our run now it has been building nicely, so we are in a similar position to last year.

"We've got a different opponent in the final, that's the challenge."

Double delight

That opponent is a formidable Leinster side aiming for the second trophy in May.

Head coach Leo Cullen believes his side will have to match their Dublin drubbing of the Scarlets in European competition as the two teams prepare to face each other for a seventh time in 18 months.

"Our guys were clinical that day," said Cullen.

"The Scarlets would have learned a few lessons about how they managed the ball and the speed of ours.

"We know the threats the Scarlets pose. Both teams know each other well so the little details will be important.

"They caused us a huge amount of pain in the semi-final at the RDS last year.

Former England coach Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen (right) has brought ex-England coach Stuart Lancaster onto his Leinster coaching staff

"For us, this is the game. It's the one we've been working towards all season, it's time we deliver."

Get those little details right and Cullen, Stuart Lancaster - the former England coach brought onto the Leinster coaching staff - and the star-studded squad could be celebrating an historic double.

"That would be a testament to the amount of work that goes in here," said Cullen.

"Everyone has worked incredibly hard to get the group back to this level.

"We want to make sure we do everything in our power to give ourselves the best chance to win on Saturday."

Leinster just have the little matter of the defending champions standing in their way.

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