Guinness Pro12: Three talking points as Glasgow beat Leinster
Guinness Pro12: Three talking points as Glasgow Warriors beat champions Leinster in opener
Warriors almost throw away win
For many Glasgow Warriors fans, revenge was the order of the day as the Guinness PRO12 gods delivered Leinster to Scotstoun for their first match of the season after their thumping defeat in the PRO12 final in May. The Scottish club have struggled to win in Dublin, but home comforts have yielded more success, including a win early last season. It was no surprise that the Warriors came out firing early doors and their fluid, inventive passing across the newly-laid pitch caused Leinster numerous problems as they struggled to shut down the Warriors’ attacking threats with running rugby on top. At 19-0 up after 32 minutes, it was a match that should have been wrapped up long before the 80th-minute penalty in front of the posts from Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg—off the bench to slot in for his first club outing at outside-half. Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend will again be disappointed that a lack of accuracy at times prevented them from going further ahead, while the second half again saw their dominance derailed despite the quality coming off the bench, as happened during pre-season. Both Leinster tries, which saw the visitors take the lead for the first time in the match on 76 minutes, will be disappointing, particularly the errant lineout on their five-metre line which resulted in an easy second score, but the Warriors dug deep to go on the offensive and force further errors from Leinster as they continued to stray offside metres from their try-line, eventually putting Stuart Hogg in a position to kick a comfortable match-winning penalty.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Leinster were still at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 during the first half of their opening PRO12 match of the season as the Warriors swept to a 19-0 lead. The loss of their top try scorer last season, Noel Reid, after just 42 seconds further diminished their backline already missing the Kearney brothers, Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald. The result saw very little creativity going forward and a struggle to get any fluency in attack. Rarely have Leinster looked so out of sorts. Reigning champions they may be after May’s comfortable win over the Warriors in the PRO12 final, but this was far from vintage Leinster despite the unlikeliest of late second-half comebacks which set up a nervy finish as the Warriors briefly threw away what looked like a certain win as Leinster’s forwards powered over for two late tries through Jack McGrath and Tom Denton. On the opening weekend of the season, Connacht were the only Irish province to win and there is a lot of work for head coach Matt O’Connor to do if they are to rediscover their attacking threat and cut out errors which blighted their afternoon, while their usually potent defensive work also lacked intensity with several missed tackles adding to their problems. Too many missed opportunities for overlaps, particularly in the second half, highlighted the lack of vision. A defeat with a losing bonus point is not a disastrous start to the season for Leinster with several key players, including captain Jamie Heaslip, still to return and they remain favourites to retain their title with the Warriors looking to be their biggest rivals again.
Squad depth impresses again
No club in the PRO12 rotate players as much as the Warriors and so it was again with more than a dozen players out injured. With three outside-halves absent, Townsend was forced to deploy Peter Horne alongside Henry Pyrgos, who took up kicking duties. Hogg, who played 10 for the British and Irish Lions last summer, was the cover despite having never played the position at club level. It was a necessary gamble which paid off with Horne going over for the first try and influential in attack. The loss of Alex Dunbar early in the second half forced an early arrival for Hogg and a reshuffle as Horne reverted to inside centre, before succumbing to injury and Sean Lamont drafted in at outside centre with Mark Bennett moving to 12. Young front-rowers Alex Allan and Fraser Brown, making their first starts, also performed admirably against Leinster’s experienced campaigners Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross, while returning prop Euan Murray also settled back in to life in Glasgow with a solid shift. A familiar combination in the back row again put in a shift and a half as Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Josh Strauss menaced in defence and attack, while locks Jonny Gray—who scored a try and picked up man of the match—and Leone Nakawara gave Leinster problems all afternoon. Despite the arrival of Hogg, rising star Adam Ashe, and livewire Niko Matawalu in the second half, there was a clear drop off in intensity, but with club captain Al Kellock, Duncan Weir, Finn Russell, Sean Maitland, DTH van der Merwe and Ryan Grant among the players to return, Townsend is even more likely to continue rotating his squad as the season progresses. He may face criticism from some fans at times for his selections but, as the last couple of seasons has shown, the former international rarely gets its wrong and if they continue to play as well as they did for most of this match, the hopes of going one better than last year’s final defeat could very well be on the cards in May 2015.
Glasgow Warriors: Peter Murchie; Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Peter Horne, Henry Pyrgos; Alex Allan, Fraser Brown, Euan Murray, Leone Nakawara, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss (captain).
Replacements: Pat MacArthur (for Brown, 53), Gordon Reid (for Allan, 53), Rossouw de Klerk (for Murray, 66), Tim Swinson (for Nakawara, 66), Adam Ashe (for Fusaro, 61); Niko Matawalu (for Pyrgos, 61), Stuart Hogg (for Dunbar, 49), Sean Lamont (for Horne, 55).
Tries: Horne, Gray, Strauss
Cons: Pyrgos (2)
Leinster: Zane Kirchner, Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken, Noel Reid, Darragh Fanning, Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Ben Marshall, Mike McCarthy, Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings, Sean O’Brien (captain)
Replacements: Bryan Byrne (for Cronin, 69), Jack McGrath (for Healy, 46), Tadhg Furlong (for Ross, 53), Tom Denton (for Marshall, 53), Kevin McLaughin (for Jennings, 71); Luke McGrath (for Boss, 66), Ian Madigan (for Reid, 1), Mick McGrath
Tries: J McGrath, Denton
Cons: Gopperth (2)
Pens: Madigan, Gopperth
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Man of the match: Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors)