RUGBY COLUMN – OCTOBER 24
By Daire Walsh
LEINSTER held onto pole position in Pool Four of the European Rugby Champions Cup at the weekend, when they recorded a 34-18 victory against PRO14 rivals Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium.
This was also the Blues’ second consecutive bonus-point triumph in the competition, giving them maximum points from their opening two games of the four-team section.
Leinster had seven points to spare (24-17) over Montpellier at the RDS seven days beforehand, and with Jonathan Sexton returning to the fold from injury, they were primed to maintain their winning ways in the Scottish city.
The fly-half took over as captain in the absence of Isa Nacewa – who injured his ankle in the opening period of the Montpellier tie – and he renewed a familiar half-back partnership with Luke McGrath.
Suncroft’s Fergus McFadden took over from fellow Kildare native Adam Byrne, and he was joined in the back-three by Athy youngster Joey Carbery – who is fast-becoming a regular fixture at full-back for the province.
James Tracy (Kill) was replaced in the Leinster starting line-up by Sean Cronin, but he played a crucial role as a replacement during a productive second-half for the visitors. Leinster’s previous win in Glasgow was just under five years ago, and Sexton’s successful second minute penalty ensured that they enjoyed a bright start to the proceedings.
Yet, this score was eventually cancelled out by a Finn Russell three-pointer, before a converted Stuart Hogg try (at the end of a typically incisive move) edged the hosts into a seven-point lead. There was no reason for Leinster to panic at this early stage in the action, though, and Cian Healy was particularly eager to make an impact on the play.
Healy currently finds himself challenging Jack McGrath for a front-row spot at both provincial and international level, and he drove powerfully over the whitewash for tries in the 23rd and 40th minutes respectively. Both of these scores were followed by Sexton bonus strikes into a stiff breeze, and as a result, Leinster brought a 17-10 advantage into the break.
They were in cruise control when Sexton claimed a seven-point salvo in the early stages of the third-quarter, but Glasgow (who lost to Exeter Chiefs in their opening pool game) were refusing to throw in the towel.
A Tommy Seymour try got them back into the reckoning, and although they couldn’t added the bonuses to this effort, a 63rd-minute Russell penalty placed them within range of a losing point.
Yet, Sexton was able to re-establish Leinster’s superiority with his second penalty of the afternoon, and after he spotted a massive gap inside the Glasgow ’22’, inside centre Noel Reid touched down underneath the posts.
Ross Byrne had taken Sexton’s place at out-half by this stage, and ahead of their trip to Sandy Park on December 10 for a meeting with Exeter, Leinster are ideally placed to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for a second season in succession.