Leinster’s startling strength-in-depth there for all to see
Byrne and Kelleher clinical as Cullen praises quality of his second string side
Leinster players celebrate the victory over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho
Six months on from defeating Glasgow Warriors in the final of the Pro14 at Celtic Park, Leinster again achieved a successful outcome against the Scottish side to make it a straight seven wins in Conference. It puts the champions eight points clear of Ulster at the top of the table.
Leinster came to the Scotstoun ground with an entirely different starting line-up to that which had beaten Lyon in the Champions Cup a week earlier. It was de facto a second-string side facing a Glasgow team, which, while not at full strength, was one that had international experience in most positions. And yet, at the end of a match played in sub-zero temperatures, it was Leinster’s reserve troops who were celebrating.
But was it a surprise that Leinster’s shadow team performed so well?
Not according to head coach Leo Cullen, who said: “We’ve got a very competitive group of players. We picked guys who were highly motivated to come over here and do a job for the team. And they were excellent today. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means but they each showed a lot of character. They dug in well for each other.”
Speaking about his outhalf Byrne, Cullen suggested: “Ross Byrne was a bit unlucky in playing in that [World Cup warm-up] match against England at Twickenham. It was a tough day for him but he’s come back and he’s been outstanding for us. I can’t speak highly enough about him. He’s one that will push on.”
Moreover Byrne’s goal-kicking proved vital, the outhalf finishing with five successes from five attempts at goal. Two conversions and a penalty helped Leinster go into half time 17-10 ahead, both sides having scored two tries apiece.
Yet it was Glasgow who looked the sharper team in the opening quarter and they were perhaps denied justice when Huw Jones was tackled off the ball by Hugo Keenan as he chased a Sam Johnson kick. The home crowd were baying for a penalty try but after scrutiny referee Craig Evans decided the case was not compelling and restricted his sanction to a yellow card.
Glasgow quickly exploited the absence of Keenan with a cross-field kick that gave Ruaridh Jackson a try in the corner. Peter Horne missed the conversion and then sent a penalty attempt wide contrasting with Byrne, who goaled for Leinster’s first points.
Glasgow struck again with yet another Jackson try, this time the fullback collecting a long floated pass. Yet again Horne was off target with his conversion attempt.
If Glasgow thought they were heading for victory then Leinster quickly torpedoed this perception, Conor O’Brien showing pace and judgment to create a try in the corner for Cian Kelleher, converted from the touchline by Byrne to level the scores.
Then five minutes before half-time Leinster worked a move off the lineout that ended with Kelleher racing in for his second try, Byrne’s conversion giving the visitors a 17-10 interval advantage.
If the second half lacked tries it was no less exciting. Leinster gradually took control of matters up front, the pressure resulting in two further penalty goals by Byrne.
Glasgow roused themselves in the final few minutes and launched waves of attacks close to the Leinster try line. Jackson appeared to have completed his hat-trick but closer inspection on the video revealed that the ball had been held up.
“We have to give their defence credit.” said Dave Rennie, the Glasgow and soon-to-be Australia coach. “There were times when we were set to score and they set a wall in front of us. They made tackle after tackle. Bottom line was we couldn’t apply enough pressure in the second half.
‘We started well. It was hard to believe we were down at half-time. We had a couple of good opportunities to score prior to half-time. We missed a penalty – they came straight down and kicked a penalty immediately. They scored a couple of good tries – soft from our point of view but clinical from them. But that’s Leinster. Give them a sniff and they hurt you.”
Scoring sequence: 6 mins: R Jackson try, 5-0; 13 mins: R Byrne pen, 5-3; 24 mins: R Jackson try, 10-3; 31 mins: C Kellehan try and R Byrne con, 10-10; 35 mins: C Kellehan try and R Byrne con, 10-17; (ht) 56 mins; R Byrne pen, 10-20; R Byrne pen 10-23
GLASGOW WARRIORS: R Jackson; T Seymour, H Jones, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, A Price; O Kebble, G Turner, D Rae, T Swinson, J Gray, R Harley, C Fusaro, R Wilson). Replacements: A Seiuli for Kebble (11 mins), S McDowall for Johnson (58 mins), K McDonald for Swinson (58 mins), K Steyn for Jones (66 mins), A Ashe for Wilson (66 mins ), G Stewart for Turner (70 mins), A Nicol for Rae (70 mins), N Frisby for Price (71 mins).
LEINSTER: H Keenan; A Byrne, J O’Brien, C O’Brien, C Kelleher; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent, R Molony, D Toner, J Murphy, W Connors, C Doris. Replacements: O Dowling for Murphy (11 mins), E Byrne for Dooley (42 mins), B Byrne for Tracy (67 mins), J Aungier for Bent (67 mins), F McFadden for A Byrne (71 mins), H O’Sullivan for Gibson-Park 76 mins.
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)