Leinster retained their PRO12 title courtesy of an impressive 34-12 victory over Glasgow Warriors in an action-packed encounter.
A double from Zane Kirchner and complemented by tries from Shane Jennings and Gordon D'Arcy saw the hosts over a brave Glasgow. The Warriors scored four penalties from pivot Finn Russell, but just couldn't match the intensity of the Irish province.
The Blues managed to retain their title despite being without the totemic Brian O'Driscoll, who is retiring from rugby, for the majority of the game; but his teammates did the Irish icon proud in his absence. Thus Glasgow's fantastic winning run comes to a disappointing end, but there can be no doubt that Leinster were the better side, and worthy champions this season.
The game began rather tentatively, with both sides feeling each other out in a decidedly nervous fashion. It was Glasgow who settled quicker, though, and scored the first points of the evening when Russell coolly slotted a two minute penalty.
The opening was breathless and frenetic; very typical of a final. But the fairy-tale script from a Leinster perspective was torn up after just eight minutes when talisman O'Driscoll limped off the field. The injury looked innocuous enough, but the Irish centre seemed to be clutching his hamstring.
Russell compounded Leinster's misery five minutes later when his kick careered in off the uprights to give the Warriors a six point lead. Glasgow were certainly in the ascendancy at this stage of the game. But the Blues responded aggressively, with big ball carriers like Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip mercilessly taking the game to Glasgow up front.
The Dubliners earned their reward on 16 minutes when some neat passing involving Ian Madigan and Rob Kearney culminated in winger Kirchner getting over in the corner. Gopperth converted to make it 7-6 to the Blues.
Leinster were now beginning to match the physicality of the Scottish side, and gaining parity in the contact areas. Also, now that Madigan had entered the fray in lieu of O'Driscoll, the Blues had another kicking option to help control the game.
But Glasgow were contributing plenty to the contest themselves, and on 34 minutes Russell restored the Warriors' lead with another three points to make it 7-9. On the cusp of half time, Leinster dramatically seized the initiative when a searing break by Kirchner saw him put openside Jennings in under the sticks. Gopperth made no mistake with the routine conversion to make it 14-9 to the reigning champions.
Just when the Blues thought they had put daylight between themselves and Glasgow, Russell landed a phenomenal kick from the half-way line on 40 minutes; narrowing the gap to a mere two points. At the end of a bruising and pulsating half of rugby, therefore, there was precious little to separate the sides.
If the second half was to emulate the first for intensity, it promised to be a compelling affair. Healy seemed to have scored again for Leinster after 43 minutes when he drove into the posts, but Nigel Owens ruled out the effort after consultation with the TMO.
Moments later, Gopperth had another opportunity to extend the Blues' lead, but his kick rebounded off the woodwork. At last, Leinster seemed to be opening up the contest, and were now finding gaps in the Warriors' hitherto well-drilled defence.
Another powerful scrum on 58 minutes saw the Glasgow front row collapse in front of the posts, allowing Gopperth to extend the lead to 17-12. A five point cushion in a game of such infinitesimal margins seemed pretty healthy for the Blues. And on 65 minutes the ever-reliable Gopperth nailed another penalty to give his team a 20-12 advantage.
The proverbial fat lady was duly warming up her vocal chords. Glasgow battled valiantly, but seemed a rather spent force. Kirchner completed his brace on 74 minutes when he finished a breath-taking counter-attack that encompassed the entire length of the field. Gopperth again duly added the extra two.
Veteran D'Arcy made it game, set, and match to the Blues a minute later; when he swept in at the corner. Goppeth converted to make it an incredible 34-12.
There was to be no consolation for the Glaswegians, as Leinster romped home; retaining a trophy that evidently means a great deal to them. Farewell then to the departing O'Driscoll, but you get the feeling that for many of Leinster's exciting young talents on display this evening, this is just the beginning of an exciting journey.
Tries: Kirchner 2, Jennings, D'Arcy
Cons: Gopperth 4
Pens: Gopperth 2
Pens: Russell 4
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Zane Kirchner, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madian, 23 Darragh Fanning
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Al Kellock (c), 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Leone Nakarawa, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Sean Lamont
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal)
By Rory McGimpsey at the RDS