AFTER Edinburgh’s unexpected win against Munster in the south of Ireland on Friday night, Glasgow rose to the occasion to make it a perfect start for the Scottish teams by seeing off the challenge of the reigning Pro12 champions, Leinster, if only by the skin of their teeth.
They raced into a 19-0 lead but allowed Leinster to come back into this match slowly but surely. Jimmy Gopperth kicked two penalties as the momentum shifted in the second half and then Glasgow were floored by two tries within two minutes inside the final ten minutes. Having led for so long it looked like Glasgow had been floored by a double sucker punch but, with the clock ticking, the home side worked their way upfield and laid siege to the Leinster line.
One penalty out wide was kicked to touch but when Nigel Owens’ arm went up in the shadow of the Leinster posts with the clock in the red, the other Glasgow players made sure they took the ball from Niko Matawalu before the scrumhalf tapped it and ran. Instead Stuart Hogg did the needful and Scotstoun erupted.
The match was played out in perfect conditions in front of a near capacity crowd of 5,725 and the new Sky audience must have been impressed with the quality on offer from two of the finest the Guinness league has to offer. Both sides came to play rugby but neither defence was in the mood to hand out gifts with bodies from both sides regularly knocked back in the tackle as when Alex Dunbar stopped Mike Ross dead in his tracks.
Glasgow played the first half as though someone has pressed the fast forward button. The pace varied from fast to breathless and the tactic worked. On occasion the Glasgow skills failed to match the pace they play at but, if the home side struggled, the visitors were discombobulated by the experience at least for the first half, trailing 19-3 at the interval.
On his return to Glasgow colours Euan Murray enjoyed a ding dong battle with Cian Healy in the set scrum that ended as a score draw when the Irishman was withdrawn from the match on 45 minutes. Josh Strauss had arguably his best game in Glasgow colours, a runaway bulldozer with added attitude. Leone Nakarawa was like a human octopus, all arms, legs and offloads, while Peter Horne did enough as a stand-in stand-off to suggest that he has a future in the No.10 shirt. Mark Bennett, Tommy Seymour and Dunbar all ran hard lines and Henry Pyrgos never allowed the pace to fall below frantic in the first half.
The busy scrum-half obviously had downed his quota of Weetabix because he ran quick tap penalties regardless of field position, inside his own half and inside the Leinster 22 alike. The pace of Glasgow’s game made Leinster look like a granny in Morris Minor who has inadvertently entered a formula one Grand Prix.
Both Bennett and Gopperth fluffed early shots at goal but the opening score in the 16th minute was worth the wait. Glasgow nicked one against the head at a set scrum that disintegrated. The ball was worked to the right where Seymour was closed down and tackled but not before throwing a “Hail Mary” pass inside which fell sweetly into the grateful arms of Horne who flopped over for the opening try.
The score galvanised Glasgow further. Minutes later they had worked their way back into the Leinster’s red zone and this time they showed patience and muscle to barge their way over, Jonny Gray the home hero but only after Strauss and Gordon Reid had gone close.
If the first two tries were brilliantly executed, Glasgow needed a little luck for their third. Nakarawa proved an handful all evening but the big Fijian lost the ball in contact. Leinster hooker Sean Cronin flapped it back towards his own line only for it to fall into the giant mitts of Strauss and the Glasgow eight No.8 exhibited unexpected pace to outstrip everyone to the Leinster line. Pyrgos was on the mark with two of the three conversions and Glasgow had an 19-0 lead before Gopperth finally got Leinster on the scoreboard with a penalty which ended the first half scoring and the same man added another early in the second half.
Hogg slotted into the No.10 channel for Glasgow around the 50- minute mark, Horne got injured to be replaced by Sean Lamont and the usual raft of substitutions which do nothing for the rhythm of the game. Leinster enjoyed the lions’ share of possession after the break but were still unable to do very much with it.
Indiscipline by replacement scrumhalf Matawalu gave Leinster an attacking platform and the visitors marched the ball over the Glasgow line from a five-yard lineout, Jack McGrath the last man up, and Gopperth’s conversion narrowed the gap to six points.
Just two minutes later Peter Murchie allowed a long Lienster kick to roll into touch five metres from thej Glasgow line. Pat Maacarthur overcooked his throw and Tom Denton smashed his way over at the back of the lineut. Leinster needed the conversion but Gopperth’s kick never looked like missing and the Dubliners thought they had a famous fight back only to be thwarted by Hogg’s late, late penalty.
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Horne, Gray, Strauss. Cons: Pyrgos 2. Pen: Hogg. Leinster: Tries: McGrath, Denton. Cons: Gopperth 2. Pens: Gopperth 2.
Glasgow: Murchie, Seymour, Bennett, Dunbar (Hogg 48), Jones; Horne (Lamont 54), Pyrgos (Matawalu 60); Allan (Reid 52), Brown (MacArthur 52), De Klerk (65), Nakarawa (Swinson 65), Gray, Harley, Fusaro (Ashe 60), Strauss (c).
Leinster: Kirchner, McFadden, Macken, Reid (Madigan 1), Fanning; Gopperth, Boss (McGrath 65); Healy (McGrath 45), Cronin (Byrne 68), Ross (Furlong 52), Marshall (Denton 52), McCarthy, Ryan, Jennings (McLaughlin 70), O’Brien (c).
Referee: N Owens (Wal) . Attendance: 5,725.