It’s always disappointing to lose, right? Losing by 2pts with the last kick of the game, in arguably the most difficult fixture the Guinness Pro12 has to offer is less disappointing though, isn’t it? It’s always extremely frustrating to lose a game when you’ve put yourselves in a match winning position. What if you put yourself in the match winning position having played pretty poorly all day and not deserved the win? I was wrestling with a variety of those thoughts on the couch as I watched Leinster lose 22-20 to Glasgow in the opening game of the season. I still can’t really figure it out to be honest with you. For most of the game it looked like it would be a dreadful start to the season. The kind of game where your non rugby supporter friends ask you “what happened to Leinster” whilst you’re still trying to think of an answer.
It started off badly when Noel Reid, whom I‘d previously felt was a liability when he played but whose defensive qualities improved beyond recognition, had to go off injured. Replays suggest that his knee ligaments may have been damaged as the weight of the Glasgow Player landed on him and bent the knee into an awkward position. This happened in the first 45 seconds, with Ian Madigan being brought on as his replacement.
The Warriors had a chance to take the lead after 11 mins when they earned a penalty on the Leinster 40m line. The home side had consistently looked to attack Leinster around the fringes and, after 2 lovely snipes by Pyros and Bennett, the defence was pinged by referee Nigel Owens. Healy was judged the offender as he’d entered the ruck from the wrong side. A fair call to be honest. Bennett failed to take the opportunity though.
The home side took their next opportunity superbly. Leinster seemed to have control of the scrum about 40m out from goal when a Warriors surge ended with the ball popping out on their side. They broke down the blindside and, after some wonderful hands and offloads; it was Inside Centre Horne who dotted the ball down. Seymour in particular did brilliantly to get his pass away before Kirchner had put him into touch. It really was a great counter attacking try. Bennett managed to shake off his earlier miss by landing the conversion from an awkward angle to give them a 7-0 lead after 16 mins.
Gopperth missed a very kickable penalty from 40m out, albeit into a stiff enough breeze, and Leinster were left rueing that miss when Glasgow helped themselves to their 2nd try of the afternoon. It came off a multiphase play from a scrum in the Leinster half. The depressing thing about it from our point of view was how simple the score was for Glasgow. They simply carried the ball at pace into contact with Nakawara and Strauss gaining yards very effectively. This eventually led to Gray crashing over with the help of Strauss and McArthur. Bennett this time failed to land the conversion. 12-0 after 26 mins.
Glasgow did get a bit of luck with their 3rd try to put it mildly. Cronin put in a huge hit on Nakawara and managed to rip the ball off him but, really unfortunately, the loose ball bounced into the arms of Strauss who, because there was no ruck formed, was in an onside position and was able to hand off Healy and race in under the posts. Bennett couldn’t miss the conversion even if he’d wanted to and put the home team 19-0 up after 32 mins.
I think for a lot of us, if you’d have offered us 22-20 defeat at this point, we’d have bitten your hand off and said thank you very much.
Crucially, Leinster did manage to score before HT. Strauss was caught by Owens coming in from the wrong side of the ruck and awarded Leinster the penalty. I said to go for the corner but, as of yet, I’m not head coach and Sean O’Brien didn’t listen to me. He instructed Madigan to take the 3pts that were on offer and Leinster were finally off the mark. 19-3 after 34 mins.
The visitors had to withstand a bit of a Warriors onslaught at the end of the first half and managed to get to HT where, thanks to the Dressing Room Cam (henceforth known as Perv cam), we got to see the players in various sitting poses having various energy drinks. A truly great and necessary insight provided by the Perv Cam.
Okay, back to the game. Leinster seemed to attack with more dynamism after the break with players coming onto the ball at a bit of speed. This yielded some results when Murray was penalised for offside on the Glasgow ’22. This time O’Brien did listen to me when I said take your points. Gopperth duly obliged and the Glasgow lead was reduced.
The Warriors then tried to shoot themselves in the foot so hard that they would stumble to the most improbable of defeats at this stage. They very nearly succeeded. Matawalu, the substitute scrum half who has blistering pace and is a fantastically talented player but who’s also prone to the odd bout of stupidity, swung a forearm at Dominic Ryan and Leinster kicked the penalty to the corner. The catch and drive lineout was set and Jack McGrath emerged from the pile of bodies having scored the try. Gopperth converted so we now had a Losing Bonus Point in our grasp. 19-13 after 72 mins.
Out came the proverbial gun again when, after an almighty clearance from Kirchner bounced just the right side of the touch and goal flag (it was at least a 75m kick down field), Glasgow had a 5m lineout. MacArthur proceeded to overthrow the ball to Johnny Gray and Tom Denton simply gathered the ball and crashed over. Gopperth landed the conversion and Strathclyde Police were about to launch an investigation into a day light robbery. 19-20 after 76 mins.
To their absolute credit though, Glasgow didn’t panic. Luke McGrath, replacement scrum half, put the ball out on the full which gave Glasgow field position that they wouldn’t relinquish. Eventually the Warriors were given a penalty for an offside Leinster player which was a call made by Robert Pattison, the touch judge. It seemed very harsh as the players didn’t appear to be integral to the play when they were penalised. Matawalu was also lucky as he took a totally unnecessary quick tap that Owens ruled out. Hogg kicked the penalty to give the home side the deserved win. 22-20 after 80 mins.
A result that is not a terrible outcome for us considering it was Glasgow away. Simply a sense of what might have been in a positive and negative sense. Roll on Scarlets next Saturday. See you in the RDS.