Leinster are champions again
PRO14 FINAL REPORT: Leinster were made to sweat, but there was to be no denying them a sixth crown.
They saw off the challenge of Glasgow Warriors 18-15 at a bouncing Celtic Park on Saturday.
In an entertaining encounter in front of a record crowd, Leo Cullen’s side were able to withstand Glasgow flurries early and late to clinch the title for the second year running thanks to tries from Garry Ringrose and Cian Healy.
The defending champions might have missed out on the chance of a double double with their European final loss to Saracens, but they were not about to let the Pro14 trophy out of their grasp.
For Glasgow, there will be frustration at the way they let the game get away from them, but it has been a hugely encouraging campaign.
The carrot of a final at Celtic Park was the added motivation they barely needed, but with the ground rocking on every attack, it was clear they would be able to call on a 16th man in the stands.
That was a record crowd in attendance, 47,128 having braved the damp conditions to cheer on their respective sides, particularly the Warriors.
And after a quick-fire Glasgow start and a try from Matt Fagerson, Leinster slowly exerted their control over the game.
Ringrose and Healy were over before half-time for a 15-10 lead which Johnny Sexton extended early in the second half.
However Grant Stewart’s try four minutes from time set up a grandstand finish, with Leinster pushed to their limits.
Glasgow had threatened first, Kyle Steyn and then Stuart Hogg finding holes in the Leinster defence which scrambled well to keep the Warriors out.
And yet it was Leinster who perhaps should have scored first. With James Lowe under huge pressure in his own 22, a half charged down clearance was brilliantly flipped back by Rhys Ruddock to Ringrose. The centre then fed Sexton and it seemed they had the numbers to get over. Glasgow rushed back though and Jack Conan knocked on under pressure. A warning shot for the home side.
The absence of Devin Toner was always likely to be a factor and so it proved on the quarter-hour when Jonny Gray pinched a Leinster line-out on the 22. Glasgow still had plenty to do it, but slowly and accurately built through their forwards. The decisive carry came from Scott Cummings, who powered over the gain line and with the Leinster defence scrambling, Fagerson was able to snipe over. Hastings’ conversion made it 7-0.
Glasgow could not have dreamt of a better opening quarter of an hour, but Leinster responded immediately. It was the Warriors who were the architects of their own downfall, Hogg caught out when trying to clear by Luke McGrath. His charge down squirted into the in-goal area, spinning interminably for Ringrose to dive down on. Sexton’s conversion from the touchline was off-target but Leinster were on the board.
Dave Rennie’s team recovered from that body blow, Steyn breaking and setting up a scoring chance. Jordan Larmour and Ringrose did well to deny DTH van der Merwe, although Leinster strayed offside from the next phase to give Hastings a shot at goal from which he made it 10-5.
The Warriors probably needed more, and their cause was not helped sooner after when Fraser Brown departed with a serious looking knee injury.
As he departed, Leinster struck, going through phase after phase until Healy was able to barrel through the defences of Rob Harley to touch down. Sexton’s conversion made it 12-10 to the champions.
Brown’s absence was felt when Stewart overthrew his first line-out around halfway, and it was compounded when Leinster got the first real edge in the scrum, earning a penalty which Sexton slotted to make it 15-10 at the break.
Glasgow started the second half brightly but were made to pay for a loose pass on the Leinster 22. The champions pounced through Ringrose and Lowe and went 50 metres before Steyn was sin-binned for not rolling away.
Leinster turned down the initial shot at goal, but when another penalty followed from an easier position, Sexton made it 18-10.
The game was slipping away from Glasgow, and when Callum Gibbins was tackled in his own in-goal area just before the hour, Leinster had the perfect opportunity to strike the decisive blow.
They could not take it though, earning one penalty but choosing to scrum and scrum again. That proved the wrong call when McGrath knocked on at a ruck five metres from the line.
And Leinster were soon down to 14 men when Rob Kearney went to the bin for a tackle in the air on Hogg, who departed on his final Warriors appearance in unfortunate circumstances.
Despite the extra man, Glasgow’s race appeared to be done, but a turnover penalty in their own territory gave them hope. Huw Jones’ break put them into position and it was Stewart who raced over in the corner. Hastings could not convert and Leinster led 18-15.
The Warriors got the ball back one final time but could not find a way out of their own 22, eventually knocking on. Leinster needed no second invitation and saw out the final two minutes to complete the defence of their title.
For Glasgow Warriors:
Tries: Fagerson, Stewart
Tries: Ringrose, Healy
Pens: Sexton 2
Yellow cards: Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors, 49), Rob Kearney (Leinster, 65)
RECAP: Glasgow Warriors v Leinster
Did you miss any of the action? Recap all the drama here!
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Siua Halnukonuka, 19 Ryan Wilson, 20 Tom Gordon, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Huw Jones.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Date: Saturday, May 25
Venue: Celtic Park, Glasgow
Kick-off: 18.30 (17.30 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be wet with an 80 to 100 percent chance of rain. There will be a high of 13°C and a low of 11°C around kick-off time.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland) Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)