Sunday 20 October 2019

Schmidt counts cost of bruising success

Leinster 17 Glasgow 15

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt

Conor George

JOE SCHMIDT'S less-than-euphoric post-match demeanour on Saturday night belied the fact that his side had qualified for another final but perfectly captured the many emotions he must have been experiencing.

Qualification for the decider – on May 25 at the RDS – has come with a hefty price-tag, the full cost of which won't be known until later in the week.

Brian O'Driscoll lasted only around 12 minutes before having to be replaced because of a back spasm. Cian Healy also suffered some punishment, as did Fergus McFadden and Richardt Strauss.

Schmidt wasn't too worried about that trio – "normally I'm concerned about everything, but I'm not overly concerned about Brian; his back seized up" – but the furrowed brow when he spoke about Gordon D'Arcy's calf injury was telling.

"Gordon cramped up badly. We don't know what it is yet. There may be a little tear. We'll know after the medical and a scan," said Schmidt.

D'Arcy's injury is a particular concern because it is a recurrence of the calf injury that kept him out of the previous three games – or is another of a similar vein.

That D'Arcy felt the need to drive the 150 yards to the post-match reception after limping exceptionally slowly and heavily from the dressing-room doesn't bode well for his chances of playing in Friday's Amlin Challenge Cup final.

LAMENTING

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The ramifications of D'Arcy's injury will be kept a closely guarded secret for the week in order to keep Stade Francais guessing ahead of Friday night's final. It was informative that Schmidt didn't spend too long lamenting Leinster's bad luck on Saturday night.

In truth it would have been churlish in the extreme had the Leinster coach been overly despondent, for Leinster enjoyed their fair share of good fortune. How else, for example, can some of the refereeing decisions that went their way be explained?

Glasgow scrum-half Niko Matawalu was the outstanding performer on show and the game's most influential player.

He spent 10 minutes before half-time in the sin bin for what referee Pascal Gauzere decided was 'lazy running' when an Isaac Boss attempted pass came off his head. Matawalu was certainly on the wrong side of the line, but what was overlooked by the French official was that he had only just got back to his feet after being trampled on by Shane Jennings in the previous phase.

At the time of his binning the scoreline was 8-10 in Glasgow's favour and the game was in the balance.

Leinster's try to narrow the gap arrived minutes before Matawalu's sin-binning and came via a training ground move that was executed to perfection. In a match of tiny margins all over the field, it was simply massive as it infused them with belief and purpose.

Sexton initially drove them deep into Glasgow territory with a penalty and Richardt Strauss hit Devin Toner out of touch.

The ball was funnelled back into the arms of Jamie Heaslip at the base of a fantastic driving maul and he eventually barrelled over Matawalu and Stuart Maitland for the touchdown. It was a try richly deserved by the Leinster pack, not least Heaslip and the utterly magnificent Kevin McLaughlin. Heaslip was rewarded for his efforts with the man-of-the-match award, but McLaughlin pushed him close with his performance over the 80 minutes.

It was expected that Leinster would kick on after the break and with a little more composure would be able to withstand the moments of magic being conjured by Glasgow's Matawalu and full-back Stuart Hogg.

Hogg was outstanding and looked dangerous every time he was in possession, but Glasgow could not find a way to penetrate Leinster's defence.

With neither side capable of taking a decisive advantage, the game developed into a battle of wits that was fascinating as it pitched two of the most exciting and consistent teams and coaches against each other.

It was therefore unfortunate that yet another intervention by the match official almost spoiled the contest when Monsieur Gauzere awarded Leinster a penalty for 'crossing' which Sexton duly converted to stretch the lead to four points (14-10).

Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend was truly magnanimous in defeat but he did admit to some frustrations at some of the decisions.

"The better team won the match," said Townsend. "The better team is invariably the one who scores the more points.

"There were some decisions there that went against us that I might not necessarily agree with, and I'd like to see that last scrum when we had a penalty against us, but huge credit to Leinster for the win.

"They're a magnificent side. They've won the last two Heineken Cups and have great experience. I think their experience was a decisive factor tonight."

Sexton kicked another penalty off the post just two minutes later and, when D'Arcy had to be carried off with 12 minutes remaining and Glasgow beginning to find their rhythm again, it was obvious the crowd – a poor 13,238 – were going to be treated to an exciting finale.

Sexton sought to dilute the effect D'Arcy's exit had on his side when he landed a monster penalty from over 50 metres for a seven-point lead with 10 minutes remaining.

MENACE

Glasgow grew in stature and menace in those final 10 minutes. They surged up the field decisively and laid siege to the Leinster defence as they sought a way through.

They finally found a sliver of daylight when Mark Bennett took a fantastic American football style pass from No 8 Ryan Wilson and barrelled between Sexton and Rob Kearney for the touchdown.

It was no more than they deserved and extra-time was looking a likely scenario when Hogg stood over the conversion attempt. However, the Lions full-back drove the ball high and wide.

"No, extra-time was not what we would have wanted," admitted Schmidt. "Not only would it have extended the effort of the players and furthered the fatigue, but also we would have had to win that extra-time because on a countback of tries they were up two to one, which is exactly what they did to us last time they were here."

The Leinster coach was relieved at the final whistle, mindful that Leinster did ride their luck a little.

But it matters little whether you stagger over the line or not, only that you cross it. Leinster won and will play Ulster in an all-Irish Pro12 final in a fortnight – possibly as the Amlin Challenge Cup champions.

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 h-t), M Ross (J Hagan 62), L Cullen, D Toner, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S Jennings (R Ruddock 74).

Glasgow Warriors – 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, J Strauss (R Harley 36) , R Wilson, J Barclay.

ReF – P Gauzerre (France)

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