In a game that was in the end heavily characterised as a match up of one side’s attack vs another’s defence, a year ago you would not have given much credence to the idea that it would be Glasgow’s attack against Leinster’s defence.
Yet it was.
At times this season it has been a thing of joy to see this Glasgow side flying forward in attack, running great lines and making the ball available to offload. Stuart Hogg has built on his obvious promise while others like Henry Pyrgos, Pete Horne or Alex Dunbar have taken time to flourish and fit themselves to Townsend’s plans to hone an attacking spirit allied to a solid West-coast defensive ethic.
There is a gaining influence on the squad that Sean Lineen shaped; Gregor Townsend is now adding the final flourishes.
Sean Maitland epitomises this. Lineen encouraged him over, then Townsend gave him the players around him and the time to settle in that he needed to shine. As with Josh Strauss it took a while before either man looked the world-beaters they were reputed to be, but Strauss, Maitland and Matawalu have been worth more than all of Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s other foreign signings put together this season.
Still, Glasgow may be the RaboDirect PRO12’s top try-scoring side this season, but as Saturday night showed they are just agonisingly short of being the fully finished article.
Makeshift place-kicker Stuart Hogg’s missed conversion might have been the last key moment in the game; a successful kick would have seen the game go into extra time when Glasgow were still clearly in the ascendancy. But Hogg – who now moves on to focus on the Lions along with Maitland – should not beat himself up about it.
Niko Matawalu as usual displayed the brilliant, the riduculous and the rash as he was caught out on one occasion for lazy retreating. He may also have attracted the ire of Cian Healy’s fist at the bottom of a ruck that will probably escape notice by the citing officer; Healy might just have been punching himself or a team-mate, but when the bodies cleared the crazy wee Fijian came up for air last.
There were other fluffed passes or soft penalties in the game, but at least the Glasgow players can be really proud that they did not leave anything out on the pitch in terms of effort unlike last year. This time they played the full 80 at breathtaking tempo, with extreme physicality.
But really, this game wasn’t decided at the RDS on Saturday, it was decided earlier in the season: Glasgow losing to the same side 0-6 at home; a narrow away loss at the RDS against Leinster’s second string; a monumental blip against the Scarlets more recently.
Correct any of those errors and it is the Warrior Nation braying for blood rather than the massed ranks of Dubliners.
With a home semi-final, Glasgow would have won that game.
Leinster were rocking, but had enough nous and enough backing from a vocal support to sway the ref towards them just enough to get that vital edge they needed in the key moments.
Are Glasgow lacking a streetwise edge? Or is it that old Scottish lack of concentration on the last pass that cost them?
Glasgow’s most streetwise player is of course John Barclay, who (foolishly for them) played his last game for the Warriors on Saturday and will be playing in the scarlet of the Scarlets next season.
Other than that, they have a young, strong squad with a backbone of experienced internationals and probably the best leader and club man the Scottish pro-game has seen in Al Kellock. Chrises Fusaro and Cusiter will return as will Duncan Weir, and who knows what the Pen will sign for next season? It has started well by snapping up Fraser Brown and Jonny Gray.