THE magnitude of the challenge which will face Glasgow Warriors when they take on Leinster at the Royal Dublin Society on Saturday evening with the Rabo Pro 12 title up for grabs is comprehensively illustrated by the fact that they have won over there only once in 17 previous visits in either this competition or the Heineken Cup.
A few other statistics point at a key reason why Dublin has been such an unhappy hunting ground over the years.
• In the four matches these teams have played at the RDS since that solitary victory back in September 2011, the Irishmen have won by an average of just 3.5 points.
• The Warriors have scored more tries than Leinster on three occasions and on the fourth occasion they scored three tries apiece. In total, the Warriors have scored nine tries to Leinster’s six.
• However, when it comes to penalties kicked we get a very different story, with Leinster slotting 16 at an average of four per match while the Warriors have managed just five in total.
• Therefore, Leinster’s ability to harvest and then convert penalties into points has been the decisive difference between the two teams.
In light of this, it is little wonder that Sean Lamont, the Warriors’ most experienced player, was at lengths to stress the importance of his team keeping on the right side of referee Nigel Owens as he looked ahead to the match earlier this week.
“It has been so close in the past couple of years. We need a bit of calmness at the right times. Last year penalties cost us.
“That has to be a big focus,” said the 86-times capped winger, who has just signed a two-year deal which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2016.
“We have been on the high side of penalties – that is just the way we play, especially at the breakdown, we do push these boundaries – and maybe we have to be a bit more cautious, as the game could be won with a penalty.
“It is important to be really clinical and force our game on the opposition.
“We’ve played them three years in a row in the play-offs now and, yes, they have been in a final before and we haven’t,” he continued.
“But we have played them so many times we know exactly what they are going to do. Our defence is the best in the league and we have conceded the least tries so if we stick to our systems we can do it.
“They are a very good team, their scoring stats show that they are the highest try scorers, and they’ve got the most penalties conceded by the opposition against them.
“So they are very good at milking penalties and they’ve got some really streetwise players – and that’s what we’ve got to be aware of. We can’t afford to be caught out.” Lamont then pointed to the play-off semi-final between the two sides at the RDS last May as an example of a game which slipped away because Warriors weren’t as cute as their opponents.
“Niko [Matawalu] got a yellow card for someone throwing the ball into him in an offside position [and Jonny Sexton kicked the ensuing penalty], and Straussy [Josh Strauss] got held in a couple of times and got penalties against him, so they’re very clever like that.
“It’s not cheating, it’s using the nuances of the game and swaying the ref – and they have got the big, charismatic players who can do that,” he reasoned.
“I’m repeating myself but it’s about enforcing our game, being dominant, being really physical and not giving away silly penalties.”
It is bound to be an electrifying atmosphere at the RDS on Saturday night, especially as it is doubling up as curtain call on the long and distinguished career of Brian O’Driscoll – but Lamont says that the fanfare for the great man will not impede his team’s collective determination to keep their heads clear and their hearts calm as they battle for their own piece of sporting immortality by becoming the first Scottish professional team to win a meaningful trophy.
“We have not even mentioned it. That is more for him and Leinster.
“Yes, they might want to give him a good send-off but, like I said, if we do what we need to do and force our game on them and stick to our systems, then we are hoping for a Scottish champion,” he said.
“I’ve been trying for long enough to get some silverware, Gregor really wants it as well, so the desire is there.
“We’ve got a great team, a great squad and we can do it, but it’s just about having the right level of readiness – not being over the top and too excited – but being clinical and doing your job with absolute pin-point accuracy.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced guys, we’ve got a lot of guys who have been capped internationally and this is basically a Test match.
“There is nowhere after this. It’s all or nothing, winner takes all, and there is no comeback – it’s either bridesmaid or bride.”
He might be the old man of the team [alongside captain Al Kellock] but there is clearly no danger of the 33-year-old taking it easy during the autumn of his career.
“As soon as you get complacent and you take the foot off the gas, that is when it goes all downhill. Once you stop caring then that’s it. You don’t make your fitness targets. You are not driving yourself to be selected in the team. For two more years at least I will be trying to pick up every game I can,” he insisted.
“I am still doing personal bests in the gym, even last week. I am pushing myself, always have and always will.
“So, I’m naturally delighted that Glasgow have given me another two years.
“It was a no-brainer. We are a club that is going somewhere and that will start this weekend.”