FOR the third time in the past four seasons Glasgow fell at the second from last hurdle from home. After trailing Leinster by four last season it will be scant consolation to Gregor Townsend’s men that the difference between the teams was down to two points last night.
Scorers: Leinster: Try: Heaslip. Pens: Sexton 4. Glasgow: Tries: Matawalu, Bennet. Con: Hogg. Pen: Hogg.
Glasgow played most of the rugby and scored two tries to one against their illustrious hosts, who were holding on for grim death in the final few minutes.
Glasgow did so much right but Leinster proved themselves masters of doing just enough to edge over the finish line, cynical and bloody minded in equal measure.
Glasgow’s gamble of leaving an international stand-off on the bench was fully vindicated. Even if he couldn’t quite match his opposite number, Peter Horne played with enough maturity in the playmaker’s shirt to suggest he may have a future there.
Townsend heaped praise on him but also talked up the contribution off the bench, where both Henry Pyrgos and Ruaridh Jackson sat before coming on and making huge contributions to Glasgow’s late fightback.
There were no complaints from the Glasgow coach after the game, just a sense of what might have been as his young team were thwarted and he dismissed any
suggestion that the better team had lost the game.
“The better team is the one that scores more points,” said Townsend in the aftermath. “Leinster just had a bit more experience, they were smart around the breakdown and they got penalties there. They just had the edge over us there.
“Credit to the Glasgow players who played at a real tempo. They were cleaning rucks quickly, supporting the ball and a game like that really tests your fitness. There were a lot of stoppages with players going down and trying to slow the tempo but our guys wanted to keep on playing and it’s credit to our fitness coaches and the work or our players.
“The team have all improved from last year. They enjoy their rugby. They like playing at tempo, you can see the passing skills, the evasion but we’re in the same position we were last year and we know we have to be better to get into a final.”
There were a hundred odd Glasgow supporters who made the trip to Dublin and every one of them was shaking their head at some missed chances especially in the first and final quarters of the match. Trailing by seven points and inside the final ten minutes Glasgow upped the pace and the ante, they worked their way up the length of the field with a eye-popping display of aggressive, off-loading rugby that resulted in Ryan Wilson sending replacement Mark Bennett over for a try on 75 minutes.
Stuart Hogg had already slotted one conversion and a tricky penalty but the full-back fluffed a simple enough opportunity to tie the scores. Leinster’s coach Joe Schmidt admitted that his heart was in his throat because, had the allotted extra time finished at 17 apiece, Glasgow would have gone through on try count. However Schmidt also pointed to one scoring kick that would not sit up for Ica Nacewa and two penalties that Jonny Sexton fluffed
to sit beside the four that the stand-off slotted.
Niko Matawalu scored Glasgow’s other five pointer after throwing an outrageous dummy in the first half and dotting the ball down on the Leinster line but Glasgow had several other gilt-edged opportunities to put this match to bed. Ryan Grant on the charge got the ball over the line in the first half only for the TMO to judge that Rob Kearney had held him up off the ground. In the second half Matawalu broke and shrugged off two tacklers before popping the sweetest pass to Hogg behind the back of a third Leinster assailant only to see the full-back drop the scoring pass.
Several other chances went the same way as Glasgow forced the pace of the game and, just possibly, several of their passes too.
“It’s probably where we are,” Townsend said. “I think we need some more patience in there. Our last try was exactly what we need to do in the opposition 22. We need to balance the risk between offloading and keeping the ball, we know we have to learn and get more discipline in that area.”
In truth, Glasgow could have done with a little more discipline in every area. Even if some of the referee’s decisions were bizarre, it was four penalties from Sexton, three in the second half, that nudged Leinster’s nose over the line inches ahead of the visitors.
Leinster’s only other score was also the indirect result of Glasgow indiscipline. The visitors had just eased into a handy looking 10-3 lead when Sean Lamont gave someone an unnecessary shoulder at the restart. Sexton nudged the ball into the corner and Leinster’s big men marched it close enough to the Glasgow line to ensure that Jamie Heaslip was unstoppable when the No.8 drove for the try.
There is an old saying about learning more in defeat than victory which means that Glasgow are storing up a wealth of knowledge every time they visit this ground. One day all that learning will be put to good use but it wasn’t yesterday.
Leinster: Kearney, McFadden, O’Driscoll (Conway 12 mins), D’Arcy (Madigan 67 min) Nacewa; Sexton, Boss; Healy (McGrath 72 min), Strauss (Cronin 40 min), Ross (Hagan 61 min), Cullen, Toner, McLaughlin, Jennings (Ruddock 72 min) Heaslip.
Glasgow: Hogg, Maitland (Jackson 60 min), Lamont, Dunbar, Van Der Merwe (Pyrgos 70 min); Horne (Bennett 67 min), Matawalu; Grant (Kalman 61 min), MacArthur (Brown 72 min), Welsh (Low 40 min), Swinson, Kellock, Strauss (Harley 35 min), Barclay, Wilson.
Referee: P Gauzere (FFR). Attendance: 15,235.