This match had a magnificent stadium, a record crowd for a Pro14 final, and an excellent 80 minutes of high-tempo, high-intensity rugby; the only thing missing was a Glasgow victory.
It was their third final and their second loss to Leinster. It won’t be much consolation this morning but Glasgow pushed the European finalists all the way. With two tries apiece, the sides were separated by one penalty goal, small margins.
In what may have been his final game for Glasgow, the departing Stuart Hogg knows all about small margins. Glasgow had just scored the opening try when the fullback was asked to clear his own lines following the restart only for Luke McGrath to charge down his kick and get his side a ‘free try’ for next to no effort, the closest rugby comes to an own goal. He did any number of excellent things in this final but sadly Hogg is likely to be remembered for this how-back was tackled in the air by his opposite number Rob Kearney who was shown a yellow card when the crowd were roaring for red and with some reason. Hogg left the field and did not return; a miserable end to a stellar Glasgow career.
In wet and slippery conditions Glasgow made a few too many handling errors, they left a chance, or a half change, on the first half table and they arguably lack the sheer physical fire power required at this level.
Scott Cummings was the pick of the Glasgow players for his tireless carrying and clearing but Matt Fagerson pushed him close. The breakaway grows in stature with every game and he may have booked his World Cup place. Grant Stewart replaced the injured Fraser Brown in the first half and showed up well in the loose play, taking his try superbly well in the final minutes of this match to offer Glasgow hope, if only briefly.
Sadly for most of the fans in Celtic Park the live wire Warriors’ back line simply weren’t afforded the time or the space to strut their stuff.
The first try when it came went to the home team to the delight of the raucous crowd. The Warriors got high field position following a loose pass from Sexton and they stole a Leinster lineout. Ali Price put Cummings through a half gap in the thin blue line and Matt Fagerson was first to seize the opportunity, the breakaway picking up the ball and driving over the line before the Leinster defense had time to close ranks.
The fans hadn’t long to enjoy the moment because the visitors struck back from the restart. Hogg’s kick was charged down with centre Garry Ringrose first to the bobbling ball behind the line.
Glasgow looked like they might had added a second score when Hogg sent Tommy Setmour haring towards the line but they had to settle for three points from Adam Hastings’ boot when they lured Leinster into conceding a rare penalty just inches from the try line but the next score was all too typical of the visitors.
McGrath took a quick free kick, a Sexton wrap around took play to within yards of the Glasgow try line when the Leinster big men took control. One, two, five, perhaps ten pick and drives occurred before Cian Healy muscled his way over the Glasgow line.
After missing two kicks at goal, Sexton made the touchline conversion and added a late scrum penalty, with both Glasgow props arguing their case with venom. Leinster took a 15-10 lead into the half-time sheds. It wasn’t much but, in these conditions, worrying enough.
The Warriors needed the first points of the second half, instead they made another mistake. Glasgow dropped a pass on the Leinster 22. Ringrose and James Lowe took play into the Glasgow red zone where Kyle Steyn was carded for preventing fair release and Sexton extended the lead by another three after Glasgow were penalised under their own sticks.
Dave Rennie went to the bench in an attempt to freshen his tiring team but Leinster are limpits when they establish a lead and they continued to ratchet up the pressure with deft little kicks in behind the rushing Glasgow defense, carrying Seymour over the try line, man, ball and all, after one of them.
With Steyn restored to their ranks Glasgow withstood that Leinster onslaught, perhaps five scums five metres from their try line, without any further damage but the game was into the final quarter and the Warriors were fighting on two fronts, the opposition and the clock.
With Kearney in the bin, Stewart threw his team a lifeline with Glasgow’s second try five minutes from time, following a neat blind side move with the hooker showing scorching pace to beat the cover defense but Hastings fluffed the tricky conversion and that was as good as it got for the Warrior nation.