The sight of Glasgow’s players doing a lap of honour in the wake of defeat in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 play-off captured perfectly the fact this was a game where they had everything to gain and Leinster everything to lose.
Unbackable favourites, the Irish province wanted nothing more than to remove this one from their in-tray with the minimum of fuss and, more importantly, remain injury free ahead of next Saturday’s Heineken Cup final.
Glasgow didn’t oblige. The Scots frustrated their hosts all night with a superb defence borne in no small part by delaying tactics at the ruck. The physical nature of it all was highlighted by the sight of Gordon D’Arcy, Cian Healy and Eoin O’Malley being helped off.
The Scots might not, ultimately, have spoiled the party but they upturned enough chairs and killed what buzz there was before being turfed out on their ear and Joe Schmidt and his players were all too glad to close the door behind them.
Warriors coach Sean Lineen was chuffed to bits when informed of Leinster’s complaints about their endeavours in the ruck. “Brilliant, that’s an accolade,” he grinned. Schmidt was merely moved to hope that Ulster weren’t watching.
They assuredly were, of course. Rested and tanned after their week’s preparations in sunny Portugal, they will have cheered every Glasgow hit with gusto and hope that their less rigorous run-in pays dividends in Twickenham.
Shane Jennings will be hoping that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Five years ago, the flanker was part of a Leicester team chasing a unique treble of league, domestic and European cups and combating the inevitable fatigue that came with it.
By the time they faced Wasps in the Heineken final, also at Twickenham, they were on their sixth match in five weeks. Their opponents, with current team-mate Eoin Reddan on board, were limbering up after a three-week layoff and won 25-9.
So, which route is better? “It’s hard to know,” said Jennings. “I’ll tell you next week. I’ve been in situations where we have played against teams who had weeks off and they have won Heineken finals and I have been in situations where I have played in week in week out leading up to it and won finals.
“Personally, I like to play. A lot of the lads do like to play and as we showed here we do have to improve on a lot of stuff. [Glasgow] were physical at the breakdown and hopefully we can pick up on a few of our mistakes.”
Imperfect though Leinster were, there was never a stage where Glasgow looked like winning. All their best work was done without the ball, especially in the ten minutes before the break when they shut the hosts out with 14 men.
Still, Leinster led 9-3 at the break and any chance of Glasgow gaining momentum was spurned by two wayward Duncan Weir penalties after the break and the score was out to 12-3 before Dave Kearney went over in the left corner 13 minutes from time.
Sexton’s conversion made it 19-3. At that, the lights went out among the home ranks and Glasgow took full advantage by stealing in for two touchdowns from Dougie Hall and Stuart Hogg that darkened Schmidt’s mood that bit more.
“I was delighted with the endeavour and effort,” he said. “We defended really well for 70 minutes until we got enough of a buffer. I think we relaxed a little bit once we knew we had the game. We’re pretty disappointed with that.”
It matters not a jot in the grand scheme of things. More pressing are the injury worries over the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and O’Malley, in particular, and what shape his starting side will take in the English capital next weekend.
Will Jennings or Kevin McLaughlin get the nod in the back row? Reddan or Isaac Boss at nine? If O’Driscoll recovers and Rob Kearney’s back ailment is as minor as flagged, there will certainly be one space available on the wing with Luke Fitzgerald marked absent.
Let the guessing games – and the countdown – begin.
LEINSTER: I Nacewa, F McFadden, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy, D Kearney, J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, B Thorn, D Toner, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: I Madigan for D’Arcy (21); A Conway for O’Malley (49); H van der Merwe for Healy (51); S Cronin for Strauss (57); N White for Ross (65); L Cullen for Toner (57); K McLaughlin for O’Brien (55); I Boss for Kearney (78).
GLASGOW: S Hogg, F Aramburu, A Dunbar, G Morrison, DTH van der Merwe, D Weir, C Cusiter; R Grant, P MacArthur, M Cusack, R Gray, A Kellock, R Harley, C Fusaro, J Barclay.
Replacements: P Murchie for Morrison (65); R Jackson for Weir (57); H Pyrgos for Cusiter (69); J Welsh for Grant (66); D Hall for MacArthur (55); M Low for Cusack (47); T Ryder for Gray (57); J Beattie for Harley (77).
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU).
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