After being smashed at the breakdown in the 38-13 defeat earlier in the pool, the Warriors produced a more dynamic and aggressive display at Firhill. But, up against a superbly experienced and determined side, they failed to back themselves or grip the ball at crucial moments and with Welsh referee Nigel Owens ridiculously lenient on Leinster’s often dodgy breakdown play their hopes vanished.
A record Heineken Cup crowd of nearly 6,500 created a great atmosphere and while the rugby lacked great flair and finishing there was plenty in the 80 minutes for the fans to savour.
The game sat balanced at 6-6 at half-time, with two penalties from Duncan Weir having provided some reward for the gutsy, up-tempo play of the hosts in the first 40 minutes. However, despite losing the territorial battle, Leinster hung in there with penalties in reply from Jonny Sexton and Fergus McFadden.
Weir had missed a drop-goal attempt and Sexton slid a long-range effort just wide, but the scoreline reflected the engrossing arm-wrestle nature of the match. Glasgow skipper Al Kellock, Pat McArthur, Richie Gray and John Barclay all led by example in attack and defence, and flanker Chris Fusaro matched international opponents with a terrific fiery display.
The Glasgow tackling was immense and Leinster were constantly frustrated as they ran the ball through phases, but hit a wall of defence on halfway.
The second half had just a handful of key incidents, but they swung the game. Stuart Hogg claimed a brilliant high ball from the clutches of Rob Kearney, the Ireland full-back, forced a great turnover on the flank and was difficult to hold on a half-break in the first period. However, he was guilty too of losing a pass forward and, in the second half, tucking the ball and going himself on a run into the 22, where he was engulfed by tacklers while two team-mates were screaming at the overlap they had to his right.
Stand-off Duncan Weir is still finding the right balance between kicking for territory and moving ball, and while some of his kicks were terrific, and forced Leinster under pressure deep in their half, there were occasions too when he kicked with men outside him and rashly relieved pressure on the Leinster defence.
These are harsh criticisms on young talents, but typical of the small margins that decide games with Europe’s leaders. The Irishmen stole the initiative just two minutes into the second half when Hogg just beat full-back Rob Kearney to a Sexton kick wide, but Kearney’s momentum carried him into the Glasgow teenager and he snatched the ball in the process to enjoy a clear run to the posts. McFadden converted with Sexton struggling with a leg knock he suffered before the break.
Barclay then lost a pass forward as Glasgow tried to respond but after a messy lineout props Ed Kalman and Jon Welsh regained the initiative with charging runs and it led to a penalty which Weir converted. Sean O’Brien, the dynamic Leinster blindside, made break from halfway which Gordon D’Arcy and McFadden took on, and only brilliant scramble defence by Glasgow denied the try. Owens then stepped in when he awarded Leinster a dubious penalty from a scrum collapse, which McFadden converted to restore the seven-point lead with 15 minutes of the second half gone.
The breakdown had become a lottery with Owens seemingly refusing to take any action on a continual welter of white jerseys lying across the ball, players running ahead of the ball-carrier and taking out defenders off the ball, diving into rucks from the side and using hands and feet to stop Glasgow playing the ball away.
Leinster are hugely efficient at the breakdown and all of their players work hard at forcing turnovers, but they also have a host of illegal tricks, which requires a decent official to marshall or they kill the game.
Glasgow began to use boots in a bit of old-fashioned rucking while Kellock hauled the 6ft 10in Devin Toner out of a ruck under Owens’ nose. Still, even when he did award a penalty to the hosts, the whistler urged the Glasgow players to stop complaining and said nothing to the offenders.
However, ultimately, Glasgow cost themselves victory. They had pulled themselves back level when Colin Gregor, on for Chris Cusiter who strained a hamstring, lifted the tempo again and finished off a solid piece of pressure to score in the corner.
Weir converted superbly from the left touchline but the young stand-off wasted the next solid phase of pressure with a kick easily gathered by Isa Nacewa and when replacement No 8 Johnnie Beattie was turned over running off a lineout in his own 22, Leinster clinically finished off with Isaac Boss diving at the right-hand post for a try, confirmed by the television match official and converted by McFadden.
Glasgow laid siege to the Leinster line, but when Beattie was caught and robbed of the ball after breaking off the scrum the Irishmen regained possession and held it until the clock passed full-time and Sexton kicked it and Glasgow’s Heineken Cup hopes into the main stand.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Gregor; Pens: Weir 3; Con: Weir. Leinster: Tries: R Kearney, Boss; Pens: Sexton, McFadden 2; McFadden 2.
Glasgow: R Lamont; T Seymour, S Hogg, G Morrison, C Shaw; D Weir, C Cusiter; J Welsh, P MacArthur, E Kalman, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), R Harley, C Fusaro, J Barclay. Subs: T Ryder for Kellock 31-40mins and 60mins, D Hall for McArthur 56, C Gregor for Cusiter 58, J Beattie for Barclay 60, T Nathan for Shaw 68, G Reid for Kalman 69, S Wight for Weir 74.
Leinster: R Kearney; D Kearney, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen [capt], D Toner, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Subs: I Boss for Reddan, R Ruddock for Jennings, both 58, I Madigan, E O’Malley for D Kearney, H van der Merwe for Healy, both 62, D Browne for Cullen 74.