Wednesday 19 June 2019

Wise Leinster heads left singing in Glasgow rain

Glasgow 15 Leinster 18

Ross Byrne, right, and Nick McCarthy of Leinster celebrates at full time of the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker
Ross Byrne, right, and Nick McCarthy of Leinster celebrates at full time of the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The rain had eased from sheet status to a steady film by the time the presentation was being made on the pristine pitch at Celtic Park. Whatever about the players, you wonder if all the extras in suits even notice they're getting soaked while the main men are collecting their silverware. But it's the end of the season. They are thinking only of the night ahead and the holiday to follow. For Leinster, every one of them will enjoy that break with the sweet satisfaction of having come through a long campaign with another trophy.

They had too much for a Glasgow side who needed a dry sod to play their best game. Still the home side gave the champions lots of hurry-up, but having turned over behind at the break - they had got off to a good start with a try on 15 minutes with a try for Matt Fagerson - they looked second best for most of the second half.

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Cian Healy scores Leinster’s second try against Glasgow Warriors last night. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Healy scores Leinster’s second try against Glasgow Warriors last night. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

They will argue that the last quarter would have been different if most of it had been played against 14 men. Instead Leinster were able to get Rob Kearney back on the field, the difference between yellow and red. And for that he can thank referee Nigel Owens.

Kearney took Stuart Hogg out in the air and it's a mystery how Owens didn't send him off. Hogg was carted off with a head injury. Kearney came back to help calm Leinster nerves as Glasgow had got over with a fine try by replacement Grant Stewart. It wasn't easy to attack from deep in the soaking conditions but Glasgow had done it and manufactured a try for the hooker down the short side. Glasgow will be very sore about how that turned out.

So Leinster picked and jammed their way to the finish, grateful to have ridden their luck at a crucial period. In Cian Healy they had the man of the match - his form is a constant these days - and across the back line Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe and Jordan Larmour were all very good.

Their pack were strong enough to dominate when it mattered, winning the penalty count and having a better scrum - which on a piddly wet evening is a big plus. And they had to do it the hard way, with Johnny Sexton missing his first two shots off the tee and having an ordinary game in general.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen celebrates with Frank Sowman, Chairman, Leinster Rugby
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen celebrates with Frank Sowman, Chairman, Leinster Rugby

Significantly however, Leinster motored when it was put up to them. Like when Fagerson had the crowd on their feet to herald their opening score. Before the home team could discuss the importance of a clean exit off the restart, however, they were in trouble. Credit to Luke McGrath, his chase on Hogg as the full-back dropped into the pocket wasn't by chance.

Having done his research he timed it right, attacked Hogg's right side and got a hand on the kick. Much to the delight of Ringrose, the backspin almost had the ball standing on its end, waiting for a hand. That belonged to Leinster's 13 - try scored.

That Sexton missed the conversion only added to the list of things going wrong for him. He wasn't the only one. Five minutes later, with Glasgow 30 metres from the Leinster line Ringrose flew up to empty his opposite number Kyle Steyn and was left empty-handed. Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour did well to limit the damage but Glasgow had momentum close in and pretty soon it offered up three handy points for Hastings.

With 17 minutes left to the break it felt like a game-defining period was about to unfold. If Glasgow could get another score - any score - they might have kicked on. Instead, they lost Fraser Brown a few minutes later in a painful looking injury when he was cleaned out at a ruck. The plan hadn't involved Stewart coming on so early, and while he is quick around the field it was a loss to Glasgow's set piece.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates after Leinster’s victory over Glasgow Warriors in the PRO14 final at Celtic Park. Photo: Ross Parker/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton celebrates after Leinster’s victory over Glasgow Warriors in the PRO14 final at Celtic Park. Photo: Ross Parker/Sportsfile

And in those minutes Leinster rumbled into position for Healy to score, topped off with a fine strike from Sexton four minutes before the break. Confirmation that the tide had turned came on the last play of the half. Glasgow were struggling for good go-forward off a sustained run of possession when Hastings threw a long, wide pass to DTH van ver Merwe.

Larmour lined him up and put man and ball over the line. A couple of weeks ago Leinster had done themselves a lot of damage in the last few minutes of the first half against Saracens. This time, having turned the game back in their favour, they got off the field with their lead intact.

With the rain falling harder by the time the teams came back out the plan for Leinster seemed simple enough: play the game in the last third; be prepared to bore people to death by carrying around the corner until the white line presented itself. Because Leinster can mix that up with an array of carriers - throwing the immense James Lowe and Larmour into the mix occasionally - it gives added impact to a straightforward tactic. It was also a safe way to come back in off the edge, if Lowe especially was upright and available for duty.

Another penalty from Sexton on 52 minutes gave Leinster an 18-10 lead, and from there the only thing they got wrong was in not taking three points from a long period of pressure after Steyn was carded for killing a promising Leinster attack. It gave Glasgow heart to escape that pressure, but seeing Kearney come back on the field must have broken them. So it goes.

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