September 7, 2014
The new Pro12 season has kicked off this weekend with mixed fortunes for the Irish provinces. Munster were beaten at home by Edinburgh in a real shock result, Ulster got a last minute draw away to Scarlets, Connacht won in the Sportsground against the Dragons and Leinster were beaten by Glasgow. The scoreline from that game in Scotstoun does not reflect how the 80 minutes went though.
Leinster named a far stronger squad than normal for a season opener with Healy, Cronin, Ross, O'Brien and McFadden all starting. In total there were 11 internationals in the Leinster match-day squad. They faced almost a full strength Glasgow side who were undoubtedly smarting from the Pro12 final 3 months ago. It was always going to be a difficult encounter, and one where Leinster would be doing very well to win. I'd have personally been happy with a LBP truth be told. And that's exactly what we got. However that doesn't for one second mean I was happy with the performance.
Glasgow were by far the better team for the first 65 minutes. The first half in particular saw what was one of the worst Leinster performances I've seen in some time. With ball in hand Leinster were completely unable to get over the gain line. At the breakdown they were second best. The scrum was under the cosh with Cian Healy having a really bad day at the office. Defensively we missed far too many tackles and just could not handle the fast off-loading game Glasgow were playing. Within 30 minutes Glasgow had 3 tries on the board and were 19-0 up. Leinster hadn't even been in the red zone, and in all honesty didn't look like they had any idea of how to get there.
Credit where it's due Glasgow were really very good in the opening 40. They played with intent and no shortage of skill. They were really deserving of all of their scores and genuinely looked like they could have had the bonus point try by the break. Glasgow were doing to us what we used to do to other sides. Things were looking really precarious for Matt O'Connor's men at half time.
Thankfully in the second half Leinster tightened things up. For 25 minutes the game was a lot more even and Leinster managed to get back to 19-6. They still didn't manage to stamp their attacking game onto the contest though. Then at around the 65th minute momentum started to shift Leinster's way. They got a try from a line-out maul to come back to 19-13 and suddenly we were in a game. A wonderful kick to touch from Kirchner, easily Leinster's best back of the day, saw Glasgow throw into the line-out 5 metres from their line. An overthrow and some quick reactions from Tom Denton saw Leinster go ahead for the first time in the game and just 5 minutes left on the clock.
Now in all honesty a Leinster win would have been daylight robbery. Unfortunately Luke McGrath put a ball into touch on the full which gave Glasgow field position. From there they piled on the pressure and eventually won the match winning penalty. Of course substitute scrum-half Matawalu almost ruined the opportunity by taking a quick tap when a very kickable penalty would have won the game. It was one of the worst pieces of decision making I've ever seen. However he didn't take the tap from where penalty was awarded and Glasgow's blushes were spared. Stuart Hogg converted the penalty and ensured Glasgow's victory.
So Leinster have a hell of a lot of work to do ahead of next weeks home game against Scarlets. They cannot afford the poor start they had this weekend. Last season saw them win the league despite a good number of poor performances, but the league looks far more competitive this season. They need to start improving, and they need to start doing so soon. Matt O'Connor had his share of dissenters last season and he needs to prove them wrong this season. Glasgow for their part have laid down a marker. They were excellent in the first half. And in the last few minutes after Leinster went ahead it would have been very easy to let the heads drop. Instead they refocused and did what they needed to do. That's the sign of a good team and after week 1 they look to be the team to beat.