Sunday 28 December 2014

Leinster hold firm to set up all-Irish league decider

Published 12/05/2013 | 05:00

11 May 2013; Jamie Heaslip, Leinster, goes over to score his side's first try. Celtic League Play-off, Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip drives for the line to score Leinster’s try in the RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final at the RDS.

If you knew one thing for sure ahead of last night's Pro12 semi-final it was that it would be a one-score game. That's the history of these teams, and even if it's Glasgow who have finished on the wrong side of that score all but once from the last 10 meetings in Dublin, there was nothing remotely like comfort in the home ranks about how it would turn out.

GLASGOW 15

If you knew one thing for sure ahead of last night's Pro12 semi-final it was that it would be a one-score game. That's the history of these teams, and even if it's Glasgow who have finished on the wrong side of that score all but once from the last 10 meetings in Dublin, there was nothing remotely like comfort in the home ranks about how it would turn out.

They had to stand and watch, and contemplate the prospect of extra-time, as Stuart Hogg stood over a conversion – into the wind but not from an especially acute angle – after replacement Mark Bennett timed his run beautifully for a try on 76 minutes. Hogg – a lethal player with ball in hand – didn't so much miss it as blast it wide like he just wanted the experience to end.

You could feel the relief all round the RDS where a crowd of 12,235 got good value for money from a game that was always decent but really came to life in the last quarter. Who knows how it would have finished up had it gone to extra-time but, for the last 12 minutes, the home team had a recast midfield after Gordon D'Arcy was carted off with a calf injury which, if Leinster are lucky, was a bad cramp. And if not, a tear. He will be scanned today or tomorrow. They also had to replace Richardt Strauss at half-time with a bang on his knee.

Not only would extra-time have been played out with Leinster running short of staff but Glasgow's 2:1 try count would have given them an advantage going into that period.

"It was a frustrating night but one we're delighted to have come through," said a relieved Joe Schmidt afterwards. "The scrums were good in the first half but I felt in the second they (Glasgow) were looking for the ground all the time and not taking the hit."

One call in particular would have stood out, in the Glasgow 22 in the second half when the dominant Mike Ross hit the deck as Ryan Grant appeared to have engineered the collapse. At the time Leinster were trying desperately to shake off the Scots who just wouldn't go away, despite squandering a 10-3 lead at one stage in the first half, with the strong wind at their backs.

Glasgow turned over at the break 10-11 down, which looked ominous given the strength of the breeze, but they played really well after the break with Niki Matawalu causing havoc every time he ran from the base of the ruck.

When the teams met here in the regulation phase of the competition they did well to bottle him up but the Fijian was lethal last night – always committing more than one man to the task of tying him down, creating space elsewhere.

What killed the Scots, however, was their concession of soft penalties. Al Kellock, Matawalu and Peter Horne were all guilty of needless obstruction or lazy running, conceding either territory or points and, in Matawalu's case, 10 minutes in the bin.

That came in the first half after Kellock's push on Devin Toner had given Leinster the position from which man of the match Jamie Heaslip got over off the back of a maul. Sexton punished the Matawalu indiscretion with a penalty into the wind, and Leinster were well pleased with themselves going into the changing rooms with a one-point lead and the wind to come.

The home team made very little progress in that third quarter, however. Their lineout platform deserted them and the scrum became a guessing game. Still, two Sexton penalties – he hit the post with another – gave Leinster a seven-point advantage with 10 minutes left. At which point Glasgow raised their game again, taking the ball to the line really well and offloading to keep the Leinster defensive line shifting all over the place.

Leinster were really struggling to contain the Scots when – with Henry Pyrgos coming on at nine and Matawalu moving to the wing – Mark Bennett got over for a lovely score with four minutes left.

"The better team is the team that scores more points," coach Gregor Townsend said emphatically, having praised the effort and resolve of his players who have lost to Leinster at this stage for the second year running.

"Leinster had a bit more experience – they were smart around the breakdown and got penalties there."

More than that, they kept their own penalty count to just three in that first half when under real pressure. That's the kind of stuff that wins titles. With two still in their sights, they have Stade Francais on Friday night and Ulster in a fortnight.

Scorers – Leinster: J Heaslip try; J Sexton 4 pens. Glasgow: N Matawalu, M Bennett try each; S Hogg pen, con

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (A Conway 14), G D'Arcy (I Madigan 68), I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy (J McGrath 73), R Strauss (S Cronin ht), M Ross (J Hagan 62), L Cullen (capt), D Toner, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S Jennings (R Ruddock 74)

Glasgow: S Hogg; S Maitland (R Jackson 61), S Lamont, A Dunbar, DTH van der Merwe (H Pyrgos 70); P Horne (M Bennett 68), N Matawalu (yc 31-41); R Grant (E Kalman 62), P Macarthur (F Brown 73), J Welsh, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt), J Strauss (R Harley 36) , R Wilson, J Barclay

Referee: P Gauzerre (France)

Irish Independent

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