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Streetwise Leinster make Glasgow pay

31st May 2014 21:35

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All-action: Leone Nakarawa

Outplayed by a Leinster team who have been here before, defeat will sting for Glasgow Warriors. All, however, is far from lost.

It all turned in an instant. Early in the second half, with the Warriors on the attack, the white jerseys pounding the Leinster line and just two points separating the teams on the scoreboard, things went pear-shaped.

Niko Matawalu, ever the free spirit, chose to stoop low as a glimpse of the whitewash lured him in like a mermaid of the deep, forcing himself under the blue wall in a feat of physics even his own impossibly supple Fijian frame could not negotiate. It was the wrong option.

The ball was lost, snaffled and swallowed up by the burly Blues, and with so many in visiting ranks flooding the blind side or attacking the ruck, Jimmy Gopperth did what scores of Kiwi fly-halves have done before. He played what was in front of him.

As the glorious Dublin sunshine cast the shadow of his own uprights across his path, Leinster's lynchpin broke from deep. The home crowd, realising with an almost comical sense of disbelief that no defenders blocked his route, roared their approval.

Gopperth seared downfield, slaloming this way and that, and finding support on his shoulders. The outstanding Sean Cronin, the combative Gordon D'Arcy and the slick Ian Madigan were all on hand. Leinster went some eighty metres from where the pivot first collected possession, and though they did not score from that particular move, the tone was set for the final quarter.

It was, in truth, the difference between the two sides in microcosm.

Matawalu's ill-advised lunge was as close as Glasgow would come to a try. Indeed, with the game in the balance, the decision to introduce the maverick at the expense of the cool head and grittiness of Chris Cusiter so early on proved costly.

The Fijian, in tandem with countryman Leone Nakarawa, is a genius with the ball in his grasp, but all too often at the RDS, the magician flirted with the suicidal. He wasn't the only one of his team-mates to do so.

Inexplicably, Glasgow chose to do things the hard way, throwing the ball around with abandon and discarding all pretence of the pragmatic, controlled and indeed composed style through which they had racked up nine wins on the trot heading into Saturday's showpiece.

The Island duo will always clutch the pill in one hand; wave it wildly about the heads, behind the backs and below the knees of their opposition, before delivering an offload most of us - including, sometimes, the recipient - don't realise is on.

But that is not, for instance, the default style of Ryan Grant or Peter Murchie, just two of those guilty of forcing play and letting slip their offensive discipline. And so mistakes crept in. Silly passes were thrown and then dropped. Josh Strauss spilled possession more often than I have ever seen since he swapped Johannesburg for Glasgow.

Was it panic setting in? Did the hitherto unflappable Warriors feel the pressure of the final, the weight of expectation back home? I'm not sure I agree. Earlier in the season, this Glasgow team won at a packed Ravenhill and an admittedly flat Thomond Park precisely by sticking to their game-plan and performing the basics with consistent excellence.

It seemed more a case of naivety, a sense that even though the scores were tight and the clock on their side, the onus was on the Warriors to make something happen.

Meanwhile, Leinster did what Leinster do. Their squad may lack the venerable appearance of old, but this team have been in more big matches and won more silverware than their Glasgow counterparts have spent nights on Sauchiehall Street.

Zane Kirchner, one of the line-breaking, try-scoring stars of the show, is a Springbok of some 28 Tests. In his trophy cabinet lurk two Super Rugby medals, and a Currie Cup gong; the stuff of dreams for the Warriors, whose resources pale in comparison.

The tries Leinster scored were, for a squad that prides itself on defence, undeniably soft. The home pack made inroads with far too much ease for Kirchner's opener. A tackle was slipped and a simple inside ball set free for Shane Jennings' on the stroke of half-time. A lineout misfired chronically in the lead-up to Cian Healy's disallowed effort, before a combination of fatigue and lethargy from the visitors and ruthlessness from the hosts saw Matt O'Connor's men dot down twice more in the closing minutes.

It was injury rather than Glasgow that put a damper of Brian O'Driscoll's farewell bash, and though failure at the final hurdle will sting, a steadily maturing - and most importantly, heavily Scottish - side and their rookie coach, Gregor Townsend, can take comfort from another stellar season, and the knowledge that they are on the cusp.

For the first time in what seems an eternity, Scottish rugby has a smile on its face.

By Jamie Lyall

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