Leinster injuries cast cloud over victory
RUGBY RABO DIRECT PRO 12 LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL: Leinster 19 Glasgow Warriors15:FOR THE second season running Leinster have earned a tilt at both end-of-season finals, thereby ensuring they will play a maximum 33-match campaign. The toll, and especially this bruising semi-final, will only become clear as the medical bulletins emerge, not to mention some little game at Twickenham next Saturday.
The sight of three players being helped off to add to two absentees almost added a sense of foreboding to the achievement of winning their third semi-final in three years, all the more so three of the wounded quintet are midfielders and two of them outside centres.
Throw in the concession of two late tries for the second week running, and as semi-final wins go the mood amongst the home camp and support was not nearly as celebratory as it might have been.
Nevertheless, it’s a hell of an achievement to reach a brace of finals back-to-back. Glasgow are one of only two sides to have beaten Leinster at their RDS fortress, and with the Ospreys being the other, next Sunday week’s final offers them the chance to wipe that slate clean as well as avenging the final defeat to the Ospreys here two seasons ago.
As well as winning here, albeit during the World Cup, Glasgow held Leinster to a draw at home in the league and were within a score at home in the Heineken Cup. Admittedly, the 38-13 European win here last November was perhaps the most relevant yardstick.
True to type, Glasgow were not of a mind to roll over in what was effectively their biggest game of the season. Furthermore, having played Leinster four times, Glasgow were more familiar than anyone with the European champions this season. Also true to type, the team who have conceded the least tries in the league this season soaked up frequent bouts of Leinster recycling, fanning out quickly and persistently to withstand the customary width which Joe Schmidt’s team sought to play.
It helped they tackled strong and were lightning quick to contest at the breakdown, particularly Chris Fusaro and John Barclay, and that they pushed up quick and hard with impunity. While George Clancy was harsh on ball carriers holding on after the tackle, he was less severe on tacklers not releasing, and didn’t award a penalty for hindmost foot until the 65th minute. In this, as ever, you wonder why he couldn’t have been helped more by his touchjudges.
Quite how Glasgow came out 14-13 ahead on the penalty count was puzzling. “If you want defenders to dominate, have slow ruck ball,” opined Schmidt. There might have been swifter sanctions against the visitors than was the case, and the sinbinning of centre Alex Dunbar in the 28th minute for flopping on the wrong side of ruck to prevent a quick recycle close to the Glasgow line was a fairly blatant yellow card.
For Glasgow to survive four scrums inside their 22, culminating in a dozen phases within 10 metres of their line, was a monumental achievement, leaving Leinster to eventually settle for a third Jonathan Sexton three-pointer for a 9-3 interval lead.
On the plus side, the Leinster lineout was much improved, yielding an unblemished dozen balls. The first 10 were from the Richardt Strauss throw, in what was an encouraging outing for the South African hooker who did some good work at the breakdown. To add to the merits of his throwing, many were directed at the tail so as to avoid Richie Gray, with Jamie Heaslip a target for five of the 12 lineouts.
The spin-offs of a productive lineout were manifest. Almost every time they were able to stretch Glasgow’s defence through multiple phases with an array of strike moves, all orchestrated by the superb passing of Sexton. Alas, his and Eoin Reddan’s kicking out of hand were not top drawer.
Glasgow might have pulled level but for a couple of Duncan Weir misses during a undistinguished first 15 minutes of the second half before Leinster upped their intensity. It was as if Brad Thorn, consistently ruthless at clearing out, or somebody read the riot act during a time-out. It helped too that Kevin McLaughlin injected dynamic ball-carrying, and from more off-the-top ball by Heaslip, strong carrying by McLaughlin and Fergus McFadden up the middle and quick ball allowed Isa Nacewa to quicken through off a standing start and offload for Dave Kearney to score.
A marginal call for offside against Andrew Conway from a deliciously weighted cross kick by Ian Madigan, who also carried well as a converted inside centre, ruled out the young winger’s touchdown moments after. Instead, a wave of penalties led to late tries for Doug Hall, when David Kearney was sucked in a tad, and Hogg.
This was fair reward for Glasgow’s performance and was a source of pride for Sean Lineen in his farewell game. With next week in mind, such an imperfect finish to an imperfect display might be no harm for Leinster either.
Scoring sequence – 7 mins: Sexton pen 3-0; 9: Weir pen 3-3; 23: Sexton pen 6-3; 38: Sexton pen 9-3; (half-time 9-30; 62: Sexton pen 12-3; 66: Kearney try, Sexton con 19-3; 77: Hall try 19-8; 80 (+2 mins): Hogg try, Jackson con 19-15.
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 (capt). Replacements: I Madigan for D’Arcy (21 mins), A Conway for O’Malley (49 mins), H van der Merwe for Healy (51 mins), K McLaughlin for O’Brien (55 mins), S Cronin for Strauss, L Cullen for Toner (both 57 mins), N White for Ross (65 mins), I Boss for Kearney (77 mins).
GLASGOW: Stuart Hogg; F Aramburu, G Morrison, A Dunbar, DTH van der Merwe; D Weir, C Cusiter; R Grant, P MacArthur, M Cusack, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), R Harley, C Fusaro, J Barclay. Replacements: M Low for Cusack (47 mins), D Hall for Macarthur, R Jackson for Weir (55 mins), T Ryder for Gray (57 mins), P Murchie for Morrison (65 mins), J Welsh for Grant (66 mins), H Pyrgos for Cusiter (69 mins), J Beattie for Hanley (77 mins). Sinbinned: Dunbar (28-38 mins).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).