Ground control: Leinster's Jonathan Sexton scores the try that helped him to a 22-point haul and Leinster to a 27-14 win over the Scarlets at the RDS last night

DECLAN KIDNEY insisted earlier in the week that current form would be a factor in his deliberations and, if the Ireland coach is true to his word, Jonathan Sexton is now looking good to replace Ronan O'Gara for Twickenham next Saturday.

Sexton didn't just come through last night's win over the Scarlets which lifts Leinster into the top four of the Magners League, he scored 22 points from a try, five penalties and a conversion, and was generally just about pitch perfect in everything he did.

A resounding Ireland victory in Paris, and there would've been no speculation about who would and who wouldn't get the vote for England, but for the likes of Shane Horgan, Eoin Reddan and Sexton in particular, the stakes were unusually high.

With Geordan Murphy also putting himself in the frame across with a try and, more importantly, a full 80 minutes in Leicester's home win over Gloucester, Horgan certainly needed a special performance to force his way back into the international 22. While he didn't quite steal the show like Sexton, he too is back in the frame.

As for Seán O'Brien, who was the only replacement not used in Paris, there was no such opportunity to make an impression. As early as five minutes in, the luckless back-row was stretchered off with a suspected broken shin bone.

With O'Brien's departure certainly not helping, Leinster were tentative at the outset to say the least. Sexton and Rhys Priestland exchanged penalties but, with the bludgeon Jon Davies and the rapier Regan King doing pretty serious damage in midfield, the home team were very much on the back foot.

On just about the only occasion in the first quarter that Leinster had managed a foothold in Welsh territory, the Scarlets came up with a try which will have a place in their feelgood DVD vault for quite a while.

Six or seven players handled in a spectacular sweeping movement which started in their own 22 and which eventually finished in the corner with hooker Ken Owens plunging over. Leinster's defence mightn't have been too hot, but the offloading and support running were out of the top drawer.

Priestland missed the difficult conversion but soon the out-half was zipping through the cover as Leinster found it hard to settle. They finally got their act together on the half-hour when Horgan and CJ van der Linde got in behind the Scarlets' rearguard before Shaun Berne put Isa Nacewa through unopposed. The extras were from wide out on the left, but Sexton nailed the kick to put Leinster 10-8 in front.

The out-half provided more evidence of his good form when he added another well-stuck penalty but, despite signs of a gradual Leinster improvement, Priestland had the last word before the interval to reduce the gap to 13-11.

There was another exchange of penalties between the two kickers as the game stagnated for a while at the start of the second half. If Leinster had a slight edge, they still had to contend with some artful touches by King who was delivering a little midfield masterclass.

Stephen Keogh, on in place of O'Brien, made some hard yards and the veteran Malcolm O'Kelly rolled back the years with a prominent performance in the loose, but it wasn't until almost the hour mark that Horgan's surging run from inside his own generated a further penalty which Sexton once again struck to perfection.

It was an almost identical scenario a few minutes later when Horgan broke clear once more and when the Scarlets drifted offside, Sexton added the punishment to put Leinster 22-14 in front.

That should really have been that but Rob McCusker could have come up with a very different ending to the contest when he charged down Berne's weak attempted clearance only to fumble the ball with the line at his mercy.

There was still time for Sexton's try after Andrew Conway's assist and, by rights, to crown what was a fine display, his conversion from the touchline should have split the posts. It didn't, but that small blemish surely won't matter when the Ireland team is announced on Tuesday.

LEINSTER G Dempsey; S Horgan, F McFadden, S Berne, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde, M O'Kelly, D Toner, K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), S O'Brien Subs M Ross for Van der Linde 4-12 mins and 62 mins; S Keogh for O'Brien, 6 mins; R Strauss for Jackman, Ross for Van der Linde, 62 mins; Van der Linde for Wright, 74 mins; A Conway for Horgan, 77 mins; E O'Malley for Berne, 80 mins

SCARLETS D Newton; D Evans, R King, J Davies, A Fenby; R Priestland, M Roberts; I Thomas, K Owens, D Manu, D Day, D Welch, R McCusker, J Edwards, D Lyons (capt) Subs J Turnbull for Edwards, 50 mins; P John for Owens, R Thomas for I Thomas, E Phillips for Manu, all 62 mins; V Cooper for Welch, 70 mins; G Maule for King, 77 mins

Referee A MacPherson (Scotland)