Leinster had a pretty good start to this one, confident after dispatching Glasgow at Scotstoun albeit with a much changed team a few weeks ago. Jamison Gibson-Park spurted from the back of a ruck the first time Leinster got into the 22 and opened the scoring just inside 5 minutes.
Glasgow offered a near instant response, the two scrum-halves George Horne and the superb Niko Matawalu – here playing on the wing – combining. Niko danced in behind the ruck and slipped it to George Turner who popped George Horne through a gap to scamper over for a try.
There was a barrage of fireworks in the sky above Scotstoun, and on the pitch too.
It was a helter-skelter affair as Leinster hit back with strong runs from Sean Cronin and Scott Fardy that led to a try for Leinster centre Rory O’Loughlin.
There wasn’t much tackling going on.
Niko almost put Grigg into space for another try for Glasgow but the defensive cover saw the stocky centre into touch. Grigg took his chance minutes later after more creative running by Matawalu gave Glasgow acres of space to attack in.
With high tempo a priority, Jordi Murphy was sent to the bin for knocking over George Horne as he ran past from a tapped penalty. Glasgow made Murphy and Leinster pay and then some, with two tries in quick succession.
The first came from Horne again, captain Calum Gibbins confidently opting for the corner then Horne burrowing through tackles to slap the ball down on the line. The second try secured a bonus point after just 23 minutes.
It may well come to be known as Niko’s masterpiece.
First standoff Peter Horne spread the turnover ball, then fullback Ruaridh Jackson passed to the Fijian mere metres from his own line, and he set off on a jinking, dancing run, only at the very last moments showing a rare degree of sense and offloading to Nick Grigg at the other end of the pitch who finished it off to a roar from the delirious Scotstoun crowd.
Leinster’s scrum was their sole source of comfort but outside that it had been all Glasgow. It wasn’t perfect – Pete Horne put a couple of kicks out on the full and there were knock-ons aplenty – but no-one was asking for a refund.
Half time: Glasgow Warriors 31-14 Leinster
Scott Cummings was made to pay for a period of Glasgow indiscipline either side of the break and was shown a yellow card for taking his man in the air at the lineout. From the lineout Leinster spread it to the opposite corner and Adam Byrne showed quick hands to dot the ball down in the corner. Despite the theatrics of the first half, Leinster were not all that far behind and the tricky conversion by Ross Byrne closed the margin to ten. With the way tries flowed in the first half that was a margin that could be easily overcome.
The second half was much tighter as Leinster pulled the game into an area far more comfortable for them. Glasgow lost Matt Fagerson to what looked like a knee injury with a half an hour to go and Leinster looked like the momentum was slowly swinging towards them.
Glasgow still had the lead, and managed to hold out while Leinster made a hash of their own lineout and gave the home side some breathing room.
As Sam Johnson made way for Alex Dunbar, Leinster were continuing to press and spending increasingly consistent periods deep in the Glasgow half. Glasgow too were starting to show the indiscipline off the ball that has plagued them at times this season – even if some of South African referee Stuart Barry’s decisions were baffling.
Alex Dunbar was sent off for ten almost instantly he had come on, another victim of Glasgow’s goal line infringements. Without him, an incensed Scotstoun screamed themselves hoarse backing the 14 remaining men who shunted the visitors back, and a penalty the other way at the breakdown – even as it looked like Gibbins had got himself into difficulty – gave Glasgow some breathing room. Horne cleared to touch – just – but the Australian Scott Fardy was growing into the game and snaffled the lineout to put the pressure back on the Warriors.
At times it was like watching Wile E. Coyote slowly haul in Road Runner on a lasso, but thankfully Glasgow were doing just enough to stop Leinster from scoring. As captain Gibbins was quieter with his efforts than Scotstoun has come to expect, but experienced heads like Pete Horne and Rob Harley filled in nicely for him.
Henry Pyrgos may not be a crowd-pleaser but he steadied the ship for Glasgow until Dunbar could come back on, with Leo Sarto also replacing Masaga who isn’t getting much of a chance to show his wares, with about 2 passes coming his way. He looks pacy, but he might have to go looking for work.
Glasgow didn’t get a meaningful incursion into the Leinster 22 until the last ten minutes, but couldn’t get the rolling maul over the line and they remained scoreless in the second half.
Leinster spent the last minutes of the game charging desperately for the fourth try that would give them two bonus points, but after a TMO intervention for a clearout at the ruck on Matt Smith that led to nothing, this time, Leinster were out of time.
They may not have scored in a second period that they played with a man down for half of, but following that scintillating first half, Glasgow remain played 8, won 8.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Nick Grigg and George Horne were both superb, but the pack couldn’t impose themselves on Leinster meaningfully. George Turner also had a very lively game but you can’t really go for anyone other than Niko Matawalu. Remember before Unplayable Big Naks there was Unplayable Niko? Tonight, he was back.