Glasgow Warriors v Leinster Rugby
Glasgow Warriors were edged out in a titanic Guinness PRO14 Final this evening, as Leinster held on to claim an 18-15 victory at Celtic Park.
A crowd of 47,128 – a Guinness PRO14 attendance record – witnessed a match played at near Test-match intensity, with tries from Matt Fagerson and Grant Stewart ultimately in vain for Dave Rennie’s side.
With the Warrior Nation in full voice, it was into a cacophony of noise that Stuart Hogg hoisted the ball to get proceedings underway in Glasgow’s east end.
The boot dominated the early exchanges, as both sides looked to utilise the conditions to their advantage. An electric atmosphere crackled as counter-attacking opportunities came and went; a charged-down kick saw a favourable bounce almost spring Leinster for a breakaway score, before Tommy Seymour’s half-break from turnover ball sent Glasgow into opposition territory.
It was from there that the Warriors struck. A lineout steal and recycled possession took Glasgow to within five metres and when Scott Cummings was stopped short, Matt Fagerson was on hand to pick up and crash over the whitewash. Adam Hastings converted, and the Warriors led 7-0 after 14 minutes.
Straight from the kick-off, Leinster responded. Hogg’s clearing kick was charged down by the onrushing defence, with Gary Ringrose capitalising to ground the ball for the try. Jonny Sexton’s conversion sailed wide of the uprights, however, leaving the score at 7-5 in Glasgow’s favour.
A game balanced on a knife-edge had the Celtic Park crowd on the edge of their seats. Kyle Steyn’s line break and Hogg’s pass sent DTH van der Merwe racing for the corner, with the Canadian flyer denied only by a superb cover tackle form Ringrose. The Irish centre was powerless to prevent Hastings extending Glasgow’s lead on 22 minutes, though, as the Warriors fly-half punished an offside Leinster defence by adding three points to his side’s total.
Leinster once more hit back in typical fashion, scoring their second try of the evening on 27 minutes. Patient build-up and relentless carrying eventually saw Cian Healy burrow his way over from close-range, Sexton’s conversion giving Leinster the lead for the first time in the match.
A penalty from Sexton on 35 minutes proved to be the final score of the half, as a game played at breakneck speed and with brutal physicality paused to allow those inside Celtic Park to breathe and take stock of proceedings.
The intensity of the match continued unabated at the start of the second half, with a thunderous hit from Jonny Gray forcing a knock-on from Leinster as the rain continued to fall.
Leinster’s defence was also proving tough to crack, as pressure on their own 22 forced a turnover from which Ringrose and James Lowe combined to take play into the Glasgow half. Despite Hogg and Steyn covering to prevent the try, referee Nigel Owens deemed Steyn to have cynically killed the ball, showing the Glasgow centre a yellow card. Whilst their initial attack was repelled, Leinster did make the numerical advantage count as Sexton’s penalty extended his side’s lead to 18-10 after 51 minutes.
Yet the Warriors survived the remainder of Steyn’s spell in the sin-bin, before coming up with a big defensive set on 62 minutes. Anchoring themselves well at the scrum, pressure from Hastings and Ryan Wilson forced a knock-on from Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath to earn their side possession five metres from their own try-line. A penalty at the resulting scrum allowed Hogg to leather the ball into the stands, relieving the pressure.
A fever-pitch atmosphere was cranked up a couple of notches on 65 minutes, with the Warrior Nation incensed as Rob Kearney cleaned out Hogg in the air. After consultation with the TMO, the Leinster full-back was sent to the sin-bin by referee Owens, with Hogg forced to depart due to injury.
Whilst the Irishmen enjoyed a near-monopoly of possession during the following ten minutes, Glasgow made their solitary attack count. Under the floodlights and in the omnipresent rain, superb handling sent Grant Stewart racing free on the touchline, the replacement hooker sliding over in the corner to the delight of the vast majority of the 47,000 inside Celtic Park. Hastings’ conversion was off-target, but the Guinness PRO14 Final had a grandstand finish.
There was to be no late drama for Glasgow supporters to savour, however. Despite the best efforts of Rennie’s men, the defending champions held on to retain the trophy. Yet as the ovation received by the Warriors from the Glasgow faithful underlined the pride held by all associated with the club, the flags still waving long into the grey Glaswegian evening.