Glasgow Warriors 18
STUART BATHGATE @ Celtic Park
LEINSTER’s experience and power proved just too much for Glasgow in a gripping PRO14 final played in front of a record attendance. On another day, Dave Rennie’s squad might just have done enough, but while the teams scored two tries and a conversion apiece, Johnny Sexton’s two penalties to Adam Hastings’ one made the difference.
The Irish team were coolly clinical when it mattered most, taking advantage of the afternoon’s biggest piece of good fortune when a charge-down fell into the path of Garry Ringrose for their first try. The defending champions might not have been quite at their best, but on this form they are still better than the rest in their league.
In front of the biggest Warriors support ever assembled, with home fans appearing to make up at least two-thirds of the crowd, Glasgow got off to an encouraging start thanks to a break by Kyle Steyn. It came to nothing, but, being reminiscent of the opening minutes in the semi-final against Ulster, it was nonetheless a sign that the team were as sharp as they had been in that triumph eight days earlier.
The rain had stopped by kick-off time, but, with the pitch remaining slippery, both sides kicked more often than is their wont, with Stuart Hogg finding remarkable distance with a couple of clearances. The kick that should have counted most in the opening stages was a 40-metre penalty from Sexton after the home side had offended at a ruck, but the stand-off was off target. Leinster had another chance to open the scoring minutes later on the counter-attack, but Jack Conan dropped a pass from Sexton, and Steyn was there to mop up the danger.
If those incidents suggested that Leinster were slowly gaining the upper hand, Glasgow had other ideas, and took the lead after a little more than quarter of an hour. Jonny Gray stole a lineout inside the visitors’ 22, and after Scott Cummings had driven on to within a metre or two of the line, Matt Fagerson picked up at the back and powered over, with Hastings converted.
The lead had been painstakingly won, but was squandered barely a minute later when Luke McGrath charged down a Hogg clearance and Ringrose was first to react to the spinning ricochet, touching down in the right corner. Sexton failed to convert, leaving Glasgow two points to the good, and the lead became five when Hastings chipped over a penalty from in front of the posts. It might well have been more, as DTH van der Merwe had been halted just shy of the line after another fine break by Steyn and Hogg.
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Brown’s evening ended after 25 minutes when he injured a leg in a collision, and Grant Stewart became the game’s first substitute. The match restarted with a scrum 30m out from the Warriors line, and eight or nine patient phases later Cian Healy crossed to take his team level. This time Sexton did not miss, and Leinster were ahead for the first time. The 10 was also on target with a long-range penalty five minutes before the break, and although the half ended with Glasgow back on the attack, there was no denying that Leinster deserved to go in at the break ahead.
They slowly tightened their stranglehold on the contest in the opening stages of the second 40, with Glasgow finding it increasingly difficult to run the ball out of their own half. On the Warriors’ first sustained attack, a fumble allowed Leinster to break clear, and the move was only halted at the cost of a yellow card to Steyn for killing the ball on the deck. That penalty was sent to touch, but when another was awarded close to the post, Sexton took the three points.
Dave Rennie went to his bench in the hope that fresh energy would spark a recovery, but Leinster looked ominously dominant as the final quarter began. However, just as a series of scrums close to the Warriors line looked sure to end in a score, the home team stood firm and eventually won a penalty.
Fifteen minutes from time, Hogg was taken out in the air by Rob Kearney. The Scotland full-back appear to manage to break his fall by putting out an arm on landing, and that was perhaps all that saved his opposite number from being shown a red card rather than merely the yellow that he got. Hogg ran off the pitch apparently in the belief that he needed a head-injury assessment, but he was replaced by Huw Jones instead.
Going a man up was the break that Glasgow needed, but they simply could not construct the platform required to take advantage. More than a full score ahead, Leinster were content to take the sting out of the game with a series of mini-rucks that nudged ever deeper into Warriors territory. There were just five minutes to play when they eventually lost possession, and perhaps they thought they had done enough. But Glasgow had other ideas, and pulled back to within three points when Stewart crossed in the corner from 20m out as the Leinster defence tired at last.
Hastings pulled his conversion attempt wide, but there was still plenty of time for another score if only Glasgow could get out of their own half from the restart. Instead, no sooner had they battled their way out of their 22 than a fumble forward gave possession away. From the scrum, Leinster went back to their slow-motion slugging, and when the clock went red substitute Ross Byrne kicked the ball dead.
Teams – Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg (H Jones 67); T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson (P Horne 56), D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 58); J Bhatti (O Kebble 51), F Brown (G Stewart 26), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 67), S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley (R Wilson 51), C Gibbins (T Gordon 79), M Fagerson.
Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Low; J Sexton (R Byrne 73), L McGrath (N McCarthy 76) ; C Healy (E Byrne 63), S Cronin (B Byrne 64), T Furlong (A Porter 64), S Fardy, J Ryan, R Ruddock (R Molony 79), J van der Flier (M Deegan 73), J Conan. Unused substitute: R O’Loughlin.
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: M Fagerson, Stewart. Con: Hastings. Pen: Hastings.
Leinster: Tries: Ringrose, Healy. Con: Sexton. Pens: Sexton 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 10-5, 10-10, 10-12, 10-15 half-time, 10-18, 15-18.
Yellow cards: Glasgow: Steyn 48mins. Leinster: Kearney 65mins.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).