A raucous crowd of more than 47,100 welcomed hosts Glasgow and holders Leinster to Celtic Park for the final of the 2018/2019 Guinness PRO14 Final and ultimately the visitors showed their championship-winning pedigree after a huge battle from the home side.
A rainy day meant a greasy ball and that offset the effect of some nice line breaks by both sides, with Kyle Steyn, Stuart Hogg and Leinster’s James Lowe in the thick of it.
It was breathless play with few stoppages despite regular turnovers. Johnny Sexton’s first goal kick was wide of the mark but Leinster’s kicking from hand was more effective, winning ball from DTH Van Der Merwe’s failure to gather slippery high balls.
Fraser Brown was lucky to stay on after a dangerous hit on Luke McGrath when he didn’t have the ball (although Brown probably thought he did) and by and large Leinster’s set piece was the difference between the two sides in physical, high tempo opening exchanges.
Two tries within a minute sparked the scoreboard into life.
After some very Irish-style forward play from the Glasgow pack, Matt Fagerson sent the locals into raptures with a short dart from the base. Almost from the kickoff, Hogg was charged down for Ringrose to dive on in goal.
Glasgow could have struck right back on their next attack – perhaps the rain had slowed a bit during this spell – had Hastings passed it on to Sam Johnson outside him rather than taking himself towards the line and into contact. Leinster would have been happy to concede just the three points to Hastings boot.
A nasty looking ankle injury to Fraser Brown after 25 minutes and a Cian Healy try after 27 were a double blow to Glasgow that left them looking a little unsettled in the ten minutes heading towards the break; a further penalty for collapsing the scrum pushed Leinster’s lead out to five.
Glasgow ended the half camped on Leinster’s line, but the blue defence had a the edge on the black attack, and they kept the score as it was.
With a different second half in prospect, those were indeed the vital “Championship minutes”?
Half-time: Glasgow 10-15 Leinster
The second half continued according to Leinster’s plan rather than Glasgow’s: Leinster content to play through the phases confident in their defence and wait for a mistake to pounce on.
Glasgow made a superb break through Hogg but Leinster turned it over in a tackle a few phases later, broke right back up the field sending Glasgow’s scramble defence into panic. Kyle Steyn, who till that point had been superb, was yellow carded for slowing the counter attack ball after tracking back to make the tackle.
Sexton kicked to the corner. The Warriors defence held firm, but did concede three points and that made the margin more than a converted try.
A physically battered Glasgow were well into their bench by the time Steyn returned and despite Leinster spending most of the time in their 22, the Warriors didn’t give away any points.
As both sides probed for half gaps going into the final stages of the game, the crowd sparked into life after Rob Kearney saw his own yellow card for taking Hogg out in the air – reds have been given for less.
Glasgow carried well throughout the game with the superb Scott Cummings, Grant Stewart and Matt Fagerson giving it their all but Leinster were secure in their defence, including a couple of choke tackles in the midfield to hold isolated runners on their feet and win the turnover.
The Warriors just had no ball to play with in the right areas, and the conditions suppressed their natural ambition to run things.
Inside the last ten minutes came a lifeline from as Stewart showed a wingers touch to finish in the corner. Hastings missed the conversion to leave the margin just three: 3 points, 3 minutes to play, and with Kearney restored, 15 men apiece. Was a draw on the cards?
Glasgow fought hard as they had all game, but as had happened more often than they would have wanted, there were too many balls slipping out of frustrated hands to get anyone through a determined blue wall and make that decisive break. They couldn’t, or didn’t, play their natural game enough.
The occasion was superb, and the intensity of the battle was huge from both teams. Make no mistake this was a contest, but by the final stages it was fairly clear that the trophy would end up in Dublin – and so it proved.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hogg was lively but this was sadly not the weather for Glasgow’s broken field running. Grant Stewart and Matt Fagerson were very good and Steyn was probably the pick of the backs, but Scott Cummings put in a towering performance that could have Gregor Townsend pondering that extra lock training squad place.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)