Hogg penalty spares Glasgow blushes

Date published: September 7 2014

Stuart Hogg's late penalty gave Glasgow early revenge over Leinster for last year's Pro12 final loss in a 22-20 win at Scotstoun.

Stuart Hogg's late penalty gave Glasgow Warriors early revenge over Leinster for last year's Pro12 final defeat in a thrilling 22-20 triumph at Scotstoun, though the home side did their best to throw it all away.

Not to be outdone by their inter-city rivals Edinburgh's impressive win at Thomond Park on Friday, they looked set to sweep the champions aside after an imperious first-half display yielded unanswered tries for Peter Horne, Jonny Gray and Josh Strauss.

But despite stuttering their way through an insipid hour or so of rugby, Leinster came roaring back to lead 19-20 in the final ten minutes through scores from replacements Jack McGrath and Tom Denton.

It took Hogg's penalty with the clock red to subdue the visitors and send the near-6,000-strong home crowd off into the sunset with a spring in their step.

With a dozen or so internationals left out of the matchday squad altogether, the performance was further evidence of the depth Warriors boss Gregor Townsend has developed since taking the helm two years ago. But it also served as a cautionary reminder of his team's fatal flaw.

A rare bout of glorious Glasgow sunshine and the newly re-laid Scotstoun pitch combined to offer up fantastic conditions for running rugby, and both teams responded in kind by giving the ball plenty of air.

It was the hosts who matched their endeavour with execution, as Townsend's troops consistently made inroads into the away half, employing an entertaining offloading style that won rapturous approval from the stands.

They gained nearly 600 metres with ball in hand – eighty of those via tireless skipper Strauss – made six clean breaks to Leinster's one, and beat a total of twenty-six defenders.

By contrast, the visitors' play was peppered with inaccuracies: missed tackles, dropped passes and lost scrums became the order of the day.

And while Glasgow repelled the advances of their opponents' Test-quality, indeed world class carriers – Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien – Matt O'Connor's men toiled to make use of their infamous choke-tackle technique.

Promising centre Noel Reid was helped from the field barely sixty seconds into the clash nursing a nasty-looking twist of the knee in contact, with Ian Madigan his replacement.

And after the resultant delay in proceedings, the Warriors enjoyed the bulk of the early pressure, and the lion's share of possession and territory. In what was a poor day for goal-kickers, Mark Bennett pushed a long-range penalty attempt wide before their dominance paid off on eighteen minutes.

The home pack did well to spoil a Leinster scrum, the ball somehow winding up in the ample grasp of Fijian second row, Leone Nakarawa. It was swiftly spread wide, Alex Dunbar breaking the line, before quick hands from Chris Fusaro released Tommy Seymour up the right touchline.

The winger's boot appeared to graze the paint as he scampered free from the cover defence, but Bob Nevins kept his flag down, and Seymour's speculative, looping offload hung in the air an age before falling into the arms of the onrushing Horne to gleefully dot down. Scrum-half Henry Pyrgos knocked over the conversion.

There would be no conjecture over Glasgow's second try. Much-vaunted lock Gray, who topped the carrying charts, powered his way over from two metres out after refreshingly patient – and most un-Scottish – phase-play deep in the visitors' 22, Pyrgos failing to add the extras.

The Warriors maintained the tempo and pressure, and eight minutes later, the Leinster defence was punctured again as the hosts racked up four line breaks in the opening forty minutes. This time, the ball squirted from Nakarawa's grasp as he sought a trademark offload, but bobbled kindly for Strauss to gather, shrug off a tackle and gallop home untouched from some thirty metres.

Pyrgos converted, and Glasgow might well have bagged a bonus-point try before half-time were it not for a pair of errors deep in away territory.

Leinster meanwhile had scarcely entered the hosts' half, let alone threatened to cross the whitewash. Madigan ensured they returned to the dressing room with something to show for their efforts as he converted a penalty with five minutes of the first half remaining.

They emerged after the break an improved outfit, earning a greater share of the ball than their meagre 39% in the first half, but cohesion and precision continued to evade them.

Madigan slotted a second three-pointer, and Springbok full-back Zane Kirchner carved through the home defence on a collision course with an unfortunate medic, yet Glasgow still looked the more likely to add to their tally.

Livewire Niko Matawalu entered the fray in place of Pyrgos, and almost capitalised on another loose Leinster ball as he hacked through to within ten metres of the try-line.

But if Glasgow have a weakness, it is their failure to close out games they are in command of. And if you were to pinpoint one of the visitors' many strengths, it would be their ability to stay cool amid adversity and win in spite of rather than thanks to their performance.

First McGrath grounded from a well-constructed driving maul, before Denton plucked an overthrown Warriors lineout eight metres from the home line to surge over. With Kiwi Gopperth converting both scores, Leinster found themselves holding an improbable lead with four minutes to play.

To their credit, Glasgow responded well to going behind in a match they should have wrapped up long before the frantic final stages.

They looked to have blown their chance after eschewing an opportunity for three points in favour of a crack at seven, then again when Hogg, poised for a drop goal, was closed down in front of the posts.

But in their eagerness to scupper the British and Irish Lion, the Leinster defenders strayed offside, and unwittingly handed him a much simpler opportunity for the match-winning goal.

In his own inimitable style, Matawalu did his best to hurl, never mind throw caution to the wind in taking a quick tap, but was forcibly seized upon and placated by several more pragmatic teammates.

Instead it was left to Hogg, from barely twenty metres, to at last put Leinster to bed. Up went the arm of Nigel Owens, up went the flags of his assistants, and up rose the Scotstoun supporters with a roar that was more relief than elation.

The scorers:

For Glasgow:
Tries: Horne, Gray, Strauss
Conversions: Pyrgos 2
Penalty: Hogg

For Leinster:
Tries: McGrath, Denton
Conversions: Gopperth 2
Penalties: Madigan, Gopperth

The teams:

Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Josh Strauss (capt), 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Gordon Reid, 18