THE enormous poster outside the ground announced that the Scottish veteran rocker Rod Stewart was playing the Royal Dublin Showground (RDS) in a few weeks time but whatever he belts out, tonight wasn’t the night for Glasgow at the weekend.
For the second year in succession, the Warriors went down to the same opposition at the same semi-final stage of the RaboDirect. Perhaps next season they will secure one of the top two spots and home advantage that comes with it.
Leinster will be back at the old ground a week on Saturday for the final of the RaboDirect Pro12, although, oddly enough, Ulster will be the home team on the day, having nominated the Dublin arena as their preferred choice since Ravenhill’s capacity falls short of the required 18,000. It will be a strange atmosphere as Ulster’s loyal supporters attempt to turn the stands white and you don’t want to get caught up in the traffic travelling south on the Belfast/Dublin motorway.
Glasgow and Leinster are old adversaries who know each other like Holmes and Moriaty. Meetings between the two teams are usually nip and tuck affairs and so it proved on Saturday, with Stuart Hogg lining up the conversion of Mark Bennett’s late try perhaps half way between the posts and the touchline which would have tied the scores with five minutes left on the clock. He missed, much to the relief of the Dubliners, players and fans alike, because, once again, the wind was in Glasgow’s sails.
Even at the very death, the French referee allowed a scrum to collapse and stay on the ground, effectively protecting Leinster’s ball, instead of resetting, but the set scrum mirrored the way momentum swung one way and then the other in this match.
Glasgow raced into a 10-3 lead after Niko Matawalu threw a cheeky dummy and darted under the Leinster posts. Hogg added the extras and a penalty to counter Jonny Sexton’s opening three. Ryan Grant got the ball over the line but failed to ground it to the TMO’s satisfaction and Glasgow failed to add to their score until Bennett’s late intervention.
Instead, Leinster enjoyed the whip hand in the middle of this match. Jamie Heaslip scored from short range after a driving maul and Sexton added three more penalties to go with his early effort. If Glasgow played some unstoppable attacking rugby in the final quarter when facing a seven-point deficit, their handling occasionally failed to match their almost limitless ambition inside the final third of the field. Both of Glasgow’s two Lions elect Sean Maitland and Hogg suffered butter fingers in promising positions and they were not the only ones.
“It’s a very proud dressing room,” said an emotional Al Kellock after the match. “Not only because of what happened out there, but because of what we’ve done all season. We are a far, far better team than we were last year and I think we showed that out there. We could have won that game and that hurts a lot. That will continue to hurt until we get an opportunity to fix it which, unfortunately, won’t come until next season.
“I don’t think it was down to experience. It was down to inches. It was scoring that try in the first half or sacking their driving lineout that we have practised and we should have done. That’s finals rugby, it’s one chance at something.
“The biggest thing as a captain is that you ask everyone to go out there and give absolutely everything and I felt that, to a man, we did that. I am gutted not to win it, but I am very proud to be involved with a great group of players and a great group of coaches.”
While Glasgow will feel a little hard done by, Leinster also left points on table, with Sexton kicking just four from seven. The Lions’ fly-half in waiting also sent a beautifully weighted cross field kick towards Ica Nacewa when Matawalu was in the sin bin at the tail end of the first half. It looked like a sure fire score, with Peter Horne struggling to cover across, but, instead of sitting up for the winger, it rolled away from him and headed harmlessly into touch.
Warren Gatland will be another who was watching the action with some interest, since Brian O’Driscoll left the field after just 12 minutes with what his coach called a recurrence of back pain. He is expected to be right as rain for Leinster’s Amlin final on Friday and, however badly the Irish centre is suffering, it pales beside the pain that Glasgow feel knowing that this one was there for the taking.