Glasgow Warriors regained the lead in conference A, gave themselves every chance of a home semi-final and became the first team to beat Leinster at the RDS this season. Unlike last year, Dave Rennie’s team are coming good exactly when it matters most because this was one of their best ever performances.
This brilliant match proved to be a battle of the brothers. The two Kearney boys, Rob and Dave, both claimed a pair of tries apiece. Not to be outdone, Glasgow fought back from finding themselves 24-18 down in the middle of the second half thanks to two tries from driven mauls courtesy of the Fagerson brothers, Matt claiming Glasgow’s third, Zander the bonus point fourth score.
Despite conceding four tries Glasgow’s defence was stuffy and it needed to be with a bruising 309 tackles in total, more than double Leinster’s tally. Ali Price and Adam Hastings were at their very best, the flyhalf nailing one superb scoring pass and adding 16 points with the boot. Aaron who?
But the stand out player was Jonny Gray, for the second week running the big man took the man of the match award. His efforts especially in defence were gargantuan because 41 of those 309 tackles were made by him. Glasgow would not have prevailed without him. Perhaps Dave Rennie should have dropped him earlier because he has been brilliant ever since.
Critics will point out that Leinster fielded only four front line players in their starting line up but coach Leo Cullen brought his first choise front row on at half time and Glasgow’s set scrum still managed to milk a penalty from them.
If there was any downside to this thrilling nine try encounter, it was an first half injury to centre Sam Johnson but a tight hamstring should not be a long term problem.
Despite playing into a stiff wind in the first half, Hastings got Glasgow out the blocks with an early penalty after Tommy Seymour had hacked ahead and been tackled off the ball by Ross Byrne with the Leinster line looming. The home flyhalf was sent to the sin bin for his trouble with the match no more than three minutes old.
Hastings added a second penalty on 14 minutes but in between times the 14 man hosts scored a try by doing nothing more ambitious than holding onto the ball before space opened up for Dave Kearney on the left wing.
Johnson was the find of the Six Nations and he ran a beautiful support line when Ali Price nipped through the middle of a breakdown before flipping the ball out the back of his hand to the centre. Johnson had plenty to do but, with the help of a big fend on Bryne, the Aussie made it to the try line. It was almost the last thing he did, replaced by Peter Horne on 20 minutes.
The contrast between these two teams was summed up just before the half time break. Leinster did what they do best, run through endless phases, 31 in all, almost every one of them concisting of just one pass.
Glasgow’s defence was stubborn but eventually the other Kearney brother, Rob, took advantage of a little luck to score. The fullback ran a short angle, juggled the pass before regathering the ball by which time he was over the Glasgow line.
Glasgow had just four minutes of the first half to respond but still they managed, displaying excellent patience, discipline and decision making before Hastings unleashed a long Hail Mary pass off his left hand that fell perfectly for Seymour who had picked an arcing run that took him outside the last defender.
Trailing 12-18 at the break Leinster reacted by changing the entire front row despite the fact that the first half had seen exactly one set scrum in the entire first half. Leinster’s reserves had got the squeeze on Glasgow but faced with two Lions’ props, Glasgow’s big men buckled down and got the nudge on Leinster’s scrum, much to everyone’s surprise.
Leinster nosed back ahead when they again played their continuity keep-ball game, running through 33 well worked, somewhat dull phases before Rob Kearmey, again, found a tiny gap in the Glasgow line on 52 minutes with Bryne’s conversion edging Leinster 19-18 ahead.
Eight minutes later the two Kearney brothers combined on the right flank to create David’s second try after Bryne’s long pass opened up the opportunity.
Leinster had the momentum and at 24-18 it looked a long way back for Glasgow but the Fagerson’s brother thought otherwise and George Horne added some icing on the Warriors’ cake with a cheeky intercept try after the eighty.