Leinster retain Pro14 title
By Daire Walsh
MAKING up for the heartbreak of their Champions Cup defeat to Saracens, Leinster delivered the goods at Celtic Park on Saturday evening to retain the Guinness Pro14 title at the expense of Glasgow Warriors.
In stark contrast to last year’s decider – when they made a short trip to the Aviva Stadium for a 40-32 success over Scarlets – the Blues faced a Warriors side that had the advantage of playing in their home city. While it was Scottish Premier League giants Celtic who hosted this showpiece (a decision made several months in advance of the game), the presence of a partisan crowd was one of many factors Leinster had to consider for their latest final appearance.
Leinster had impressively dispatched the challenge posed by Munster in their semi-final encounter at the RDS seven days earlier, but Glasgow’s stunning demolition of Ulster on the previous night ensured their feet were firmly on the ground.
Like the province’s European triumphs, a strong Kildare contingent have been at the heart of Leinster’s recent league successes.
Naas’ Jamie Heaslip was a try-scorer in their 2013 final win over Ulster. He was joined in the starting side on that occasion by Suncroft native Fergus McFadden and both men returned for the following year’s victory against Glasgow.
Retirement and injury ruled Heaslip and McFadden out of last May’s final respectively, but there were spots on the bench for James Tracy (Kill) and Joey Carbery (Athy). It proved to be a swansong for the latter – who now plies his trade at arch rivals Munster – and he contributed a conversion in a clinical Leinster display.
However, with McFadden (suspension) and Kill’s Adam Byrne (injury) already out of contention, Tracy was the sole chance of Kildare representation on the day.
He had appeared as a second period replacement in the aforementioned reversal to Saracens, but former Clongowes Wood student Bryan Byrne has been the preferred bench option on their return to league action. There was also no place in the match day squad for the departing Sean O’Brien who, it was confirmed on Sunday, will now miss the forthcoming World Cup because of surgery in the next few weeks to repair a hip injury.
It looked like Glasgow (champions of the Pro12 in 2015) were ready to spoil the party early on as a Matt Fagerson converted try helped the Scottish outfit to develop a 10-5 cushion. Yet Garry Ringrose and Cian Healy – complimenting Jonathan Sexton’s five point haul off the kicking tee – offered Leinster a 15-10 interval buffer. In a ferociously physical second half of action, a Sexton penalty stretched the Blues further in front. A Grant Stewart try set up an exciting conclusion, but Leinster held out for their sixth league crown.
Meanwhile, at the end of an eventful weekend in the English capital, the Ireland Men’s 7s squad claimed a sixth-place finish at the London 7s. Naas man Billy Dardis captained the side and amassed an excellent personal haul of 28 points over the course of the tournament.