Glasgow were on the receiving end of a savage performance by a second-string Leinster side, who ran out 32-19 winners.
The Pro14 can feel like a confusing place at the moment, it is a 12-team tournament titled the Pro14 which could have 16 teams as soon as next March if travel restrictions are eased. Amidst all this upheaval, caused by Covid-19, there is one simple rule which looks unlikely to be changed anytime soon; Leinster, irrespective of who they put out on the field, win. The Irish province’s 32-19 victory over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun on Monday 2 November was their 23rd consecutive Pro14 win. Win number two of that 23 game streak came at Celtic Park in the 2018-19 Pro14 final where Leinster edged out Glasgow Warriors to claim the title since then the fortunes of the two sides have diverged dramatically, Leinster is a sporting behemoth with three straight Pro14 titles under their belt, whereas Glasgow is a side sorely lacking in identity and squad depth with questions already being asked of head coach Danny Wilson, who only took up the reigns in the summer. Leinster brutally overpowered Glasgow in Monday night’s contest, it appeared to be a battle between two sides, one who looks like a brutal, efficient, rugby machine and the other a collection of enthusiastic and talented individuals who are struggling to channel their energy into a performance capable of bringing Glasgow back to their halcyon days. Both sides were deprived of key players due to international call ups, but one side has sensational squad depth, the other look as if the next few weeks, minus their internationals, could be an endurance.
The ability of Leinster’s second-string players to replicate the performances of their more esteemed teammates was demonstrated from the first whistle, in the opening 10 minutes then Glasgow twice ventured into the Leinster 22 only to come up short as both Scott Penny and James Tracy gained turnover penalties for the away side. The contrast in the efficiency of the sides was shown was the first time Leinster got in the 22 as fly-half Harry Byrne took the ball to the line and drew Pete Horne and Sam Johnson a tackle which left space for full-back Jimmy O’Brien to run onto a Byrne offload for Leinster’s first try. Glasgow did achieve parity soon after, it came through ad-lib rugby rather than any great structured play but the forward interplay between Aki Seiuli and TJ Ioane was delightful, and resulted in a break for Hamish Bain. A follow up carry by Ryan Wilson further strained the Leinster defence allowing George Horne to snipe around the ruck for Glasgow’s first try on the 17th minute.
The remainder of the half was Leinster at their savage best; when they kept it in tight then the back row of Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny, and Josh Murphy were blowing away the Glasgow forwards with their carries, Ruddock left Bain punching the floor in frustration. However, they also had the ability to spread it wide with the crispness of the passing from the half-backs, Luke McGrath and Byrne, providing clean ball for the likes of Tommy O’Brien and Cian Kelleher to make strong yards wider out. It felt like Glasgow were trapped on the ropes, unable to counter due to the array of weapons at Leinster’s disposal. They were ground down by the physical Leinster pack, and that exhaustion was shown when they failed to react to a quick tap five metres out from Luke McGrath that brought about Leinster’s second try. There was no let-up from the ferocious second string of the Pro14 champions, Glasgow grew frustrated in their inability to stop the brute force and coordination of Leinster, something exemplified by Bain’s hammering of the turf after dropping off a tackle on Ruddock. Another close-range score, by Scott Penny as he broke off a Leinster maul to run over Niko Matawalu, put Leinster 22-7 up at half-time.
The second half proved to be one of Glasgow frustration, rather than Leinster brilliance, but perhaps it is telling of Leinster’s ability that it never truly felt Glasgow had a realistic chance of winning the game. The half started terrifically for the Glasgow side as we saw a clinical side to their game, which was missing for large swathes of the game, when D’Arcy Rae, ably supported by his teammates, carried over the line from five metres out. Leinster, however, had no intention of allowing Glasgow a foothold in the game Leinster’s backs were again presented with the time on the ball and Rory O’Loughlin took advantage to break and come within inches of the try line, only to be deprived by a terrific recovery tackle from Tom Gordon. But, Glasgow couldn’t hold off Leinster as a cynical offside intervention from Huw Jones in the following phase led to him being shown a yellow card. From the resulting penalty, Leinster’s red zone competence was again displayed as they tapped and went with several phases of carries from their forwards culminating in tighthead prop Michael Bent inching his way over the line for Leinster’s bonus point score.
It was at this point that most observers would have feared Glasgow being overrun like they were when they lost 55-19 to Leinster at the RDS back in February, however, it turned into a half of frustration at the other end of the field for Glasgow as they succeeded in finding their way into Leinster’s 22 with Leinster’s discipline atypically lax, but on three separate occasions replacement hooker Grant Stewart was unable to find his lineout jumper, thus stopping any potential Glasgow attack in its tracks. Glasgow eventually gained some reward with seven minutes remaining as Tom Gordon broke off a driving maul to get over, following a yellow card for Leinster’s Cian Kelleher for a high tackle on Huw Jones. A missed conversion meant Glasgow still trailed by 10 points and the feeling that Leinster would not allow them to get back into the game was confirmed when they extended their lead to 13 points through a Harry Byrne penalty. This extended Leinster’s lead to 32-19 and this was how it finished.
This was a chastening evening for Glasgow, their second-string side seemed unable to front up in defence, or at the set-piece, whilst they also did not click with the ball despite having players with obvious attacking ability. Centre pairing Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg showed flashes of their abilities but the quality of ball they got stood in stark contrast to that which allowed the Leinster backs to demonstrate their talents. Glasgow’s third defeat this season leaves them with work to do to gain a playoff place, and with more games coming up which coincide with internationals then one fears it might get worse before it gets better.
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