Tuesday 25 June 2019

Leinster are Pro14 champions following battling victory over Glasgow Warriors in Celtic Park

Leinster 18 Glasgow 15

Johnny Sexton of Leinster leads his side off the pitch after the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton of Leinster leads his side off the pitch after the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As Hoops fans turned Glasgow green to celebrate their treble-treble, Leinster turned the air blue at Celtic Park to retain their Guinness PRO14 crown.

At one of the bastions of the beautiful game, the Irish province were content to win ugly and one series of pick-and-goes towards the end of the game drew boos from discontented locals who were unhappy with the perceived raw deal they were getting.

It was music to the visitors' ears.

In front of a crowd of 47,128, a record for this fixture and not bad for a city also hosting the Scottish Cup final across town in Hampden Park, Leinster adapted to the conditions better than Glasgow Warriors who must have cursed the incessant down-pours that fell from the heavens on to the Paradise turf.

It is their sixth title and, in some ways, it will be their most satisfying after the disappointment of their European Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens two weeks' ago.

The Warriors are a strong team and they were heavily backed in the stadium, but Leinster produced a teak-tough performance to win a difficult game.

Leinster celebrate with the cup
Leinster celebrate with the cup

They had some luck along the way, Rob Kearney was blessed not receive a red card for taking Stuart Hogg out in the air with 15 minutes remaining. Grant Stewart scored before the full-back returned to play his part in the finale.

Stewart was on early because Glasgow's hooker Fraser Brown was stretchered off with a knee injury that looked like it will end his hopes of going to the World Cup. In the moments after his departure, Leinster went for the jugular and Cian Healy scored the all-important try.

Their scrum was dominant, their discipline was better and their kicking strategy reaped big rewards. They've been the best team in the tournament all season and the title is deserved.

The rain had poured down all day in Glasgow and it was no surprise to see both teams go to the air early on.

Johnny Sexton missed a chance to put Leinster in front with a kickable penalty after Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose combined well up the left and Brown went off his feet, but the out-half had just received treatment and pulled his kick.

Another chance came and went when James Lowe's clearance came off a Glasgow hand and stayed in play rendering all the retreating players onside. Rhys Ruddock reacted well and found Sexton who slipped a tackler but Jack Conan couldn't hold his pass on the edge of the '22.

Stuart Hogg of Glasgow Warriors is tackled by Rob Kearney of Leinster resulting in a yellow card for Kearney
Stuart Hogg of Glasgow Warriors is tackled by Rob Kearney of Leinster resulting in a yellow card for Kearney

Brown was lucky to stay on when he blind-sided McGrath after Conan had picked his throw off, but Nigel Owens did give Sexton a chance to kick his team to the edge of the '22 but they couldn't make it count as the out-half threw a loose pass and Tommy Seymour pounced before Adam Hastings pinned Leinster back.

Scott Cummings then picked off Sean Cronin's throw and, 13 carries later, Matt Fagerson spotted a missing pillar defender on the edge of Leinster's ruck and crossed for the first try.

Hastings converted, but Leinster hit back within seconds. Sexton kicked his restart deep, McGrath charged down Stuart Hogg's clearing-kick and the ball spun kindly along the greasy turf for Garry Ringrose to pounce.

Sexton missed the touch-line conversion and Glasgow again went on the attack and almost got in when the ball again hit the turf and caused a moment's hesitation from Ringrose.

It was almost fatal as Kyle Steyn picked up brilliantly and powered through his opposite number and Robbie Henshaw's tackle to race clear. He found Hogg on his shoulder but Jordan Larmour brilliantly read the full-back's pass, drifting on to DTH van der Merwe who he halted with plenty of help from Rob Kearney and Healy.

The danger wasn't averted and Leinster would have been relieved to concede only three points as Hastings punished an offside after earlier missing an overlap with advantage.

Still, there were worrying signs for the Irish province who drew a moment's pause when Brown was treated and replaced after suffering a serious-looking knee injury.

Owens restarted with a Leinster scrum and the pack edged forward in a dominant fashion, before Larmour made gains up the right and the Blues went into their hard-carrying phase play, grinding their way to the line over the course of 18 phases for Healy to bully his way over.

Sexton added the extras and then got a chance to stretch his team's lead to five when Leinster's scrum turned the screw and he made no mistake from 47m.

And Leo Cullen's men made it into the half-time break with that lead intact, finishing the half with a strong defensive set as Larmour drilled van der Merwe into touch.

Eight minutes after the break, the game turned in Leinster's favour just as it looked like Glasgow might score.

A series of superb carries saw the Scots surge into the '22, but a loose Ali Price pass was pounced on by Sexton who hacked ahead and Ringrose followed up, picking up his own chip, before weaving his way deep into the Glasgow half and finding James Lowe.

Steyn got back to stop him short, but he stayed in the ruck too long and Owens reached for his yellow card.

Sexton put the kickable penalty to touch, Rob Harley was penalised at the ruck and the out-half made it 18-10.

Leinster continued to probe and they got another chance when Henshaw drilled Callum Gibbins back over his own line on the back of Sexton's chip and Kearney's aggressive chase.

That set up a 5m scrum and, when they won a penalty under the posts, they called for another set-piece. That decision back-fired when they couldn't force another penalty and McGrath knocked on at the base of a messy ruck and Glasgow turned the tables by forcing a scrum penalty of their own.

With 15 minutes remaining, Leinster just needed to keep their heads but one of their most experienced players, Kearney, put up a Garryowen up and then careered into the air-borne Hogg. He was blessed to only get a yellow card.

Glasgow went to their maul and made major gains up the right touchline, but when they followed up with a carry Ringrose and Henshaw executed a brilliant choke tackle and the scrum followed up with a penalty which allowed them escape their own territory.

Down to 14 men, they tried to muscle their way home but Owens lost patience and awarded a penalty Glasgow's way.

And the locals patiently exploited their advantage through a long series of phases that ended with replacement hooker Grand Stewart racing clear up the right to score.

Hastings couldn't make it a one-point game as Kearney returned for the final three minutes.

Sexton kicked deep and challenged Glasgow to go the length of the pitch and the Leinster defence hammered their men on the edge of the '22 through 17 phases until Cummings finally knocked on.

All Leinster needed to do was get through a minute of phase-play and they did it in their sleep, with Ross Byrne kicking the ball dead to the sweet sound of the booing local crowd.

GLASGOW WARRIORS – S Hogg; T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson (P Horne 56), DTH van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price; J Bhatti (O Kebble 69), F Brown (G Stewart 26), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 69); S Cummings, J Gray; R Harley, C Gibbins (capt), M Fagerson.

LEINSTER – R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 74), L McGrath (N McCarthy 77); 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 74), J Conan.

Ref: N Owens (Wales).   

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