GLASGOW went top of the RaboDirect PRO12 last night with a good win over the reigning champions, but it was an agonising watch for their supporters.
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries - Fusaro, Yanuyanutawa; Con - Hogg. Leinster: Pens - Gopperth 2.
Five missed penalties, three by Stuart Hogg, and one each by Mark Bennett and Ruaridh Jackson, and a missed late conversion by Jackson, meant they toiled to escape the clutches of the Dubliners, despite good scrum and lineout ensuring a plentiful supply of possession.
But, ultimately, they scored the tries that mattered, Chris Fusaro touching down late in the first half and Fijian prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa bursting the bubble of nervousness around Scotstoun with the crucial score five minutes from the final whistle. The news that Munster had lost to Treviso and Zebre also won warmed the feeling among Warriors afterwards.
Leinster came with a plan, to play a tight, controlled game, kick the ball from their own half and squeeze Glasgow all the way to an away win, and for much of the game Glasgow lacked the accuracy and urgency to break Leinster’s hold.
Both teams made late changes, the visitors drafting in new Wallaby signing Lote Tuqiri, supposedly after a late injury to Darragh Fanning, while the hosts lost DTH van der Merwe to illness.
The Warriors were able to call up new Scotland cap Tommy Seymour, and within a matter of minutes he welcomed Tuqiri with a hard hit after the newcomer had gathered a high ball.
After 30 minutes Leinster decided starting Tuqiri just days after he arrived from Oz to be the wrong move. That was not ideal for Glasgow as he was replaced by Rob Kearney, the British and Irish Lion.
The game struggled to find any rhythm, with neither side able or willing to hold onto the ball through phases, but a strong scrum from the Warriors pack turned over ball after 17 minutes and produced the first real attacking platform for either side in the opposition half.
A knock-on in contact ended that threat, however, still 30 metres from the line, and then referee Peter Fitzgibbon deemed a scrum collapse to be due to Ryan Grant’s poor binding, and awarded a penalty to Leinster.
Jimmy Gopperth turned it into the first three points of the night, but Fitzgibbon quickly evened things up with a penalty against Leinster for standing up in the scrum, only for Stuart Hogg to miss the target from wide on the right of the 22 and follow up with another miss, this time from over 40 metres.
The Warriors ramped up the pressure towards the end of the half, with young lock Jonny Gray to the fore in his first home start. Fusaro almost sliced through the Leinster defence, before fly-half Ruaridh Jackson launched an attack towards the posts, and it was rumbled on again to the left for Fusaro to show great strength, twisting and turning in the tackle to find a way down to the line for the game’s opening try with a minute of the half left.
The Warriors were rewarded for their improved ambition, winning five penalties in a row in the second quarter, but Hogg could not make it count on the scoreboard, missing the target with another long-range effort with the last kick of the half.
The second period opened with Harley soaring again in the Glasgow lineout, and the home forwards flexing their muscle with a maul and the Warriors continued to off-load with ambition.
A good garryowen by Jackson might have produced something, but the Glasgow chasers backed off Kearney, giving him an easy catch. Why do chasing players regularly ignore the ball? Kearney doesn’t, and there he easily handed Leinster possession back, which they used to slow the tempo again.
The tackles continued to rain in thick and fast and scrums continued to leave their mark on the mood of the stadium, extracting what enthusiasm remained. Nobody should be fooled. If coaches and players wanted to keep these scrums up they could, as club sides show every week, but they don’t and that contributed to a dull affair last night.
Bennett took on a penalty from near halfway, and it came back off the crossbar. Chris Cusiter, back to the starting line-up and in impressive, aggressive form after a year’s absence, almost turned over the Leinster receiver, but they scrambled it away and Leinster held firm.
They enjoyed one break in the third period, a high ball out of defence again being chased and caught by Kearney while Warriors watched him rather than the ball, and that was enough to bring a penalty which Gopperth goaled.
Alex Dunbar brought Scotstoun to life with a terrific break down the middle of the park, and though man-of-the-match Gray took it on well another knock-on wasted the opportunity, this time Tim Swinson the culprit. But Glasgow now had the bit between their teeth, Josh Strauss being sent on to add some punch to the attack, and Leinster had to scramble to hold up Seymour after a concerted attack in which Strauss was prominent drove the winger over the line with 15 minutes to go.
Leinster continued to infringe and Glasgow again went for goal, but Jackson sent his kick from wide right, wide right. A loose pass by the fly-half then extinguished a Warriors charge and took play back into the home 22 for the first time in the half, but he led them back and after a succession of penalties against the Irishmen, and more hard running from Strauss, and last week’s matchwinner James Eddie, a driven lineout provided the launchpad for replacement prop, Fijian Jerry Yanuyanutawa, to charge over the line with five minutes remaining.
In keeping with the game, Jackson could not put the game beyond Leinster with the conversion, which came back off a post, but Glasgow were not letting it slip now.
Dunbar and Bennett were soon streaking through Leinster’s defences again, Strauss stole a Leinster lineout and Cusiter forced pressure on Kearney to kick the ball out with the last act to wrap up a good win, in the end.
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, DTH van der Merwe, Ruaridh Jackson, Chris Cusiter (capt), Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Jon Welsh, Jonny Gray, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Richie Vernon. Replacements : Dougie Hall, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Ed Kalman, James Eddie, Josh Strauss, Henry Pyrgos, Scott Wight, Byron McGuigan.
Leinster: Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney, Brendan Macken, Gordon D’Arcy, Darragh Fanning, Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss, Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Tom Denton, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Jordi Murphy. Replacements : Aaron Dundon, Cian Healy, Martin Moore, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan, Eoin Reddan, Noel Reid, Rob Kearney.