TWELVE months ago, Glasgow travelled to Dublin and lost a nail-biter by a short nose. They got the ball over the Leinster line on three occasions in the first half but only grounded it once to the referee’s satisfaction.
Leinster 34-12 Glasgow
With the clock counting down, Stuart Hogg missed a simple enough conversion that would have taken that semi-final into extra time.
On Saturday’s evidence, Glasgow may have taken a step backwards because, while it was a lot closer than the scoreboard suggests, Glasgow never looked like winning this game after the first half hour or so. Leinster scored four tries in all, two in the first half and two late in the game. Jimmy Gopperth added four conversions and a brace of penalties. All Glasgow could manage in reply were four first-half penalties from the assured boot of Finn Russell, who didn’t miss all day even if one went in off the woodwork.
“We are all disappointed that we lost and didn’t produce our best game,” said coach Gregor Townsend. “But I’m really proud of the way the players went into this game with confidence and really took the game to Leinster.
“There are turning points in finals when you can put the opposition under pressure. When Brian O’Driscoll went off injured, we were six points up and, if we had scored a try then, it would have created doubt. We needed something to hang our effort on and I had a feeling at half-time that the guys knew it would be tough because we hadn’t got that seven points that it looked like we would have.”
Townsend highlighted the contact area as an area of concern ahead of the final and, sure enough, Leinster bossed the breakdown. It didn’t help Glasgow’s cause that flanker Chris Fusaro had to leave the field after just 25 minutes. Leinster enjoyed quick, front-foot ball for much of the match but there were times when Chris Cusiter was left twiddling his thumbs while various blue-shirted tacklers rolled away from the Glasgow ball with all the agility of an asthmatic walrus. Russell’s four penalties kept Glasgow in touch, they trailed by just 14-12 at the break and, despite Leinster enjoying the wind and the whip hand in the second half, it stayed that way throughout the third quarter – until Gopperth kicked a pair of penalties on 60 and 65 minutes.
Glasgow might have sneaked a win had they regained the lead during that scoreless third quarter but the vast majority of play took place well inside the Glasgow half of the field, chances were few and, when they did pop up, the visitors could be sure of wasting the opportunity with a dropped pass or a turnover. It wasn’t Glasgow’s worst performance of the season, but it certainly wasn’t their best.
“We didn’t play as well as we could,” Townsend conceded. “I thought Leinster played really well. There were times when we caused some doubt and got in behind them, but they stuck with the way they were playing and took their opportunities. Their tries in the first half showed really clinical finishing, which we lacked. We have shown progress because we have got to a final. If we get back to a final, which I believe we can, I think we will handle the day much better.”
So. have Glasgow taken a step forward or backward from this time last year? “This season we beat Munster away from home,” Townsend replied. “A couple of times we came up short, like against Toulon and Leinster today. As coaches and players we have to work out how we get past that. We are on a path here. Five or six years ago, Leinster lost two Heineken cup semi-finals in a row and they lost the final of the Rabo. But, when they made the breakthrough, they won three European Cups in a period of four years.
“We will keep working hard to get there. What the players have achieved this year is fantastic and we are really disappointed that we didn’t push Leinster more.”
This Glasgow side is a young one and they will be better for experiences such as this one. If Townsend can keep the core of his squad together, there is no reason they cannot be contesting another final 12 months from now.
The coach, who took time to praise the 3,000 or so Glasgow fans who made the trip to Dublin, was then asked what happens now.
“We are starting our pre-season in ten days’ time,” came the reply.