Glasgow Warriors kept their Guinness Pro12 title defence very much alive with a gritty 12-6 victory over Leinster at Scotstoun last night.
Stand-off Rory Clegg, who filled in during the World Cup period at the start of the season and has since been brought back until the end of the next campaign, marked his Glasgow return with the four penalties that secured a priceless victory.
If Gregor Townsend’s men do make it to the play-offs at the end of the season then the international stars who take part will owe a debt of thanks to the fringe men who stepped up admirably last night on an evening which presented a host of challenges.
A series of injuries tested Glasgow to the limit but they found a way to win this tryless arm wrestle of an encounter.
The win took the champions above Edinburgh into the top six and leaves them just four points, with a game in hand, behind Ulster, who are next up at Scotstoun next Friday in what is now a huge match.
A more entertaining contest than the scoreline suggests rose to a dramatic crescendo as the home side dug in bravely in the closing minutes and stoically defended a six-point lead as Leinster pressed for the converted try they needed to snatch victory.
This was a game re-arranged from early December when Scotstoun suffered the first of a series of waterloggings.
With both clubs contributing hefty representations to this evening’s international in Dublin there was already a shadow boxing feel to this clash between the league’s heavyweights of recent seasons and the home side’s stretched resources were set to be tested even further.
The first half proved to be an evenly-matched affair but Glasgow’s backline was hit by injuries to two starters as both wing Rory Hughes and centre Sam Johnson departed early, replaced by Glenn Bryce and academy debutant Nick Grigg.
Leinster’s goalkicking wing Isa Nacewa and Clegg, the former England Under-20 stand-off who has returned to Glasgow after a spell in France, had exchanged a couple of penalties each before the visitors seemed to have been handed the edge in a low-key opening period when Irish referee George Clancy’s arm went up in Leinster’s direction as the clock ticked towards 40 minutes. The chance was about 25 metres out and fairly central but Nacewa’s effort strayed wide and it was 6-6 at half-time.
When the Warriors appeared for the second half it emerged that another back had fallen to injury with skipper and full-back Peter Murchie failing to re-appear. That signalled the entry of Ali Price from the bench to take over the scrum-half role with Grayson Hart moving out to the left wing and Bryce slotting in at full-back.
Glasgow dealt with the changes well and spent almost the entire first ten minutes following the break probing away in the Leinster half and Clegg banged over his third penalty to nudge the home side ahead.
Glasgow put together their slickest attack of the evening in the 57th minute when Lee Jones came off the right wing to hit a great line out on the left only for desperate Leinster defence to scrag him down.
But yet another Clegg penalty was soon forthcoming to stretch the Warriors’ lead out to six points.
The home pack was soon forced to follow the back division into a bit of musical chairs when Simone Favaro went off injured and young hooker James Malcolm was sent into the front row with Fraser Brown moving to openside.
After some ominous Leinster pressing, Glasgow forced a turnover and sparked an attack up the left wing but a couple of quickfire penalties in the visitors’ favour had the capacity crowd howling in protest as the match approached the closing five minutes.
A kick to the corner set up a driving maul for the Irish side before they moved it wide.
The biggest roar of the night to date came when Clancy spotted a ruck infringement and awarded a pressure-relieving penalty to the hosts. A timely lineout steal in the 79th minute then allowed Glasgow to see out the clock and secure what could be a crucial four points.
Glasgow: Pens: Clegg (4).
Leinster: Pens: Nacewa (2).
Glasgow: P Murchie; L Jones, M Bennett, S Johnson, R Hughes; R Clegg, G Hart; G Reid, F Brown, S Puafisi, G Peterson, L Nakarawa, J Eddie, S Favaro, A Ashe. Subs: J Malcolm, J Yanuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, T Holmes, A Price, N Grigg, G Bryce.
Leinster: Z Kirchner; I Nacewa, G Ringrose, B Te’o, D Kearney; C Marsh, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, T Furlong, M Kearney, H Triggs, D Ryan, D Leavy, J Murphy. Subs: B Byrne. J Loughman, M Bent, R Molony, P Timmins, I Boss, J Carbery, N Reid.
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