Leinster carry on regardless to claim PRO12 title
Zane Kirchner (2), Shane Jennings and Gordon D’Arcy tries too much for Glasgow Warriors
Leinster 34 Glasgow 12
People leave but Leinster stay the same. Jimmy Gopperth and Zane Kirchner, signed with the unenviable tasks of replacing club icons, Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa, drove this victory more than others.
Brian O’Driscoll’s departure after eight minutes shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The man has been struggling with that calf all season and has been patched-up since before the 2011 World Cup. That he still managed to roll back the years with some particularly solid defensive performances is a credit to his mental fortitude. But the body has been yelling ‘Stop’ for ages.
His selection these past few months, especially since emptying the tank in Paris has felt like a constant risk. Blame can’t be put on Matt O’Connor’s head, mind. He would be damned if he dropped him so while the anti-climatic ending was a pity, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone paying close attention.
It didn’t rattle Leinster.
The crowd reached a new decibel levels as he hobbled away. O’Driscoll knows as well as anyone that sport can be a cruel mistress. In 2005, he was the best player on the planet, so unmarkable against the New Zealand Maori that the All Black captain and hooker viciously drove him into the dirt.
A week later Dan Carter was the best player on the planet. The game is the game. It never stops. His name will always ring out but before O’Driscoll had left the field, Ian Madigan sprinted on with Gordon D’Arcy shifting out a few steps to begin a new era in Irish rugby.
Business as usual, Madigan’s rapid hands created Kirchner’s first try on 15 minutes. It had a real Leinster feel to it. Shuffling feet by Jamie Heaslip in traffic, they sucked in enough Glasgow defenders to allow Madigan find Rob Kearney (an injury concern for Argentina) who perfectly stalled his assist to the Springbok.
Jimmy Gopperth’s touchline conversion was crucial.
Highlights via RaboDirect Pro12
It was also doused in farce. Nigel Owens asked for a specific replay to check for foul play from his predecessor, as the prince of Welsh referees Derek Bevan. Owens lost his patience with the inability to get the replay up on the big screen.
“She’s looking for it now,” said Bevan to Owens. It couldn’t be found. In a final. Sloppy.
Gopperth nailed the kick to cancel out two earlier strikes from Finn Russell.
O’Driscoll or not, Glasgow were the better team on view in the opening half and deserved the 9-7 lead when Mike Ross gave up a second penalty. But Leinster have been the inferior team on plenty of occasions during O’Connor’s first campaign as coach.
What he has improved is their defence but their ability to land powerful counter-punches remains the chief weapon.
Gopperth will never be Sexton but he has an astute rugby brain. After D’Arcy made a half break up the right wing, the Kiwi outhalf feinted to go wide only to flip it inside to Kirchner.
The South African handed off a covering prop before catapulting Shane Jennings over the line. Russell, still only 21, looks a genuine prospect despite his late brain freeze, and a booming fourth penalty brought it back to 14-12 at the turn.
Plenty happened – Cian Healy’s disallowed try, Gopperth hitting the post and Russell losing his nerve when putting two balls out on the full – but the scoreboard was frozen until the 60th minute. That’s when Gopperth made it 17-12 after a thrilling 80 metre reversal.
The Warriors thundered into the 22 but Niko Matawalu was to blame, getting white line fever and knocking on after Fergus McFadden’s tackle.
D’Arcy, receiving the ball in his dead ball area, saw the open prairie and shipped it to Gopperth who raced over half way. It was a certain Kirchner try if Cronin could have freed his hands. Still, the pressure valve had been released.
And Seán O’Brien and Leo Cullen were on the field. Control was needed now.
Let the inexperienced team self-destruct. Sure enough, when Moray Low collared Eoin Reddan, Gopperth made it a two-score game. Kirchner and D’Arcy added late tries as Gopperth kept banging over the conversions.
New names, same Leinster.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins: F Russell pen, 0-3; 13 mins: F Russell pen, 0-6; 15 mins: Z Kirchner try, 5-6; 35 mins: F Russell pen, 7-9; 38 mins: S Jennings try, 12-9; J Gopperth conv, 14-9; 40 mins: F Russell pen, 14-12. Half-time. 59 min: J Gopperth pen, 17-12; 65 mins: J Gopperth pen, 20-12; 73 mins: Z Kirchner try, 25-12; J Gopperth conv, 27-12; 76 mins: G D’Arcy try, 32-12; J Gopperth conv, 34-12.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, Z Kirchner; J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: I Madigan for B O’Driscoll (8 mins), M Moore for M Ross (49 mins), S O’Brien for S Jennings (55 mins), L Cullen for M McCarthy (60 mins), J McGrath for C Healy (66 mins), A Dundon for S Cronin (74 mins), D Fanning for R Kearney, I Boss for E Reddan (78 mins).
Glasgow Warriors: P Murchie; S Maitland, A Dunbar, P Horne, T Seymour; F Russell, C Cusiter; G Reid, D Hall, J Welsh; J Gray, A Kellock (capt); R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss.
Replacements: P MacArthur for D Hall, L Nakarawa for C Fusaro (both 25 mins), R Jackson for P Horne (39-40, blood), N Matawalu for C Cusiter (44 mins), R Grant for J Welsh (45 mins), T Swinson for A Kellock (49 mins), S Lamont for A Dunbar (54 mins), M Low for G Reid (55 mins), R Jackson for F Russell (67 mins).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).