The long wait for a Scottish pro-team victory in this league just got longer. Ahead of this game, both coach and captain insisted that Glasgow’s best would be enough to win this RaboDirect final.
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Kirchner 2, Jennings, D’Arcy. Cons: Gopperth 4. Pens: Gopperth 2. Glasgow: Pens: Russell 4.
We will never know. Glasgow’s display was full of effort but so far below the fluid, constructive, intelligent rugby they have occasionally showcased this season that if this were a horse race the stewards would be demanding a DNA test.
The scoreboard may have been close for much of the contest – it was a two-point game around the one hour mark – but Leinster had a good grip on proceedings for the entire second half, slowly tightening their grip and squeezing the life out of the visitors who started brightly but faded as the match wore on.
Only by calling upon every last scrap of their competitive instincts were Glasgow able to keep the champions at bay as long as they did and in the end they simply ran out of steam, allowing the home side two tries in the final few minutes. When the counting was done, Leinster scored four tries, Glasgow four penalties which tells the story.
The difference between the two teams was execution. When they got inside the red zone, Leinster were patient and clinical, they held on to the ball for long, long passages of play and let the pressure build.
When Glasgow enjoyed a period of attacking ascendancy, late in the first half, they gave up two turn-overs in quick succession through simple knock-ons. The exact same thing occurred in a rare second-half attack.
It happened all too often and that was the difference between the teams – Leinster were clinical, Glasgow weren’t and it cost them the title. Quite why is the next question, although experience counts at this level and Leinster have it in spades.
Glasgow’s young stand-off Finn Russell opened the scoring with the first two penalties of the tie after four and 12 minutes.
The first came after a fly hack by Leinster fullback Rob Kearney was picked up by one of his own players in an offside position. The second came after Chris Cusiter, Josh Strauss and Alex Dunbar made inroads into the Leinster defence and Mick McCarthy went high on Tommy Seymour. Glasgow had an early six-point lead. What they didn’t have was much time to enjoy it.
The home side were roused from their slumbers, they worked their way into the Glasgow red zone and piled on the pressure with wave after wave of attack. They were patient, biding their time in the knowledge that gaps would eventually appear and so it proved.
After defending like Trojans for perhaps four or five minutes, Glasgow were finally found short-handed on their right flank. The last man, Chris Cusiter, jumped out of the line to catch Rob Kearney with the ball but the fullback’s hands proved too quick and winger Zane Kirchner was free to dive over in the corner. Jimmy Gopperth’s touchline conversion gave Leinster, playing into the first-half breeze, a 7-6 lead.
The intensity was everything you would expect from a Rabo final. The great man himself, Brian O’Driscoll, lasted just eight minutes before limping off with a calf injury. Ian Madigan proved a more than able deputy.
Glasgow also lost two players in quick succession with Dougie Hall leaving the action on 24 minutes and Chris Fusaro following him to the sidelines barely a minute later.
Glasgow lost their way a little, too lateral, going wide too often without earning the right with some direct running. At least Leone Nakarawa, on for Fusaro, broke the Leinster line almost at will and one diagonal gallop resulted in a third penalty to Russell. But no sooner had Glasgow regained the lead than they lost it again.
Kirchener took an inside ball, handed off one tackler and gave flanker Shane Jennings a clear run to the posts from 30 yards out. Gopperth again added the extras but Russell slotted his fourth penalty with the last kick of the half to narrow the home advantage to 14-12 at the break. They were to be Glasgow’s final points.
The second half belonged almost exclusively to the home team. A Cian Healy “try” was wiped off by the TMO but Glasgow were living dangerously and the introduction of coach Gregor Townsend’s wild card Niko Matawalu for Cusiter just five odd minutes into the second half seemed to be an all-or-nothing gamble.
One rare Glasgow attack was wasted when Nakarawa spilled the ball before Matawalu was turned over when diving for the line which gave Gopperth the opportunity to counter and Glasgow were scrambling in desperate defence as Matawalu made a desperate tackle on Kirchner to prevent more damage on the scoreboard.
Tommy Seymour had to look smart to clear a Madigan grubber which left Leinster with a promising five-metre scrum. Leinster’s big men dipped their knees and went forward, the scrum went down, Nigel Owens’ hand went up and Gopperth eased the home side into a five-point lead with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Gopperth kicked a penalty to give his side some breathing space. Glasgow threw everything into the attack but Leinster gave nothing away and instead Kirchner and Gordon D’Arcy both scored fine tries inside the final six minutes as an exhausted Glasgow ran out of puff.
At least Brian O’Driscoll got the send-off his stellar career deserved.
Leinster: Kearney; McFadden, O’Driscoll (Madigan, 8 mins), D’Arcy, Kirchner; Gopperth, Reddan; Healy, Cronin, Ross (Moore, 49), Toner, McCarthy (Cullen, 60), Ruddock, Jennings (O’Brien, 55), Heaslip.
Glasgow: Murchie; Maitland, Dunbar, Horne, Seymour; Russell (Jackson, 67), Cusiter (Matawalu, 44); Reid (Grant, 45), Hall (MacArthur, 24), Welsh (Low, 55), Gray, Kellock (Swinson, 49), Harley, Fusaro (Nakarawa, 25), Strauss.
Referee: N Owens (WRFU). Attendance: 19,200.