Leinster’s big-match experience just got them through to beat Glasgow in a pulsating Guinness PRO14 final in front of a record crowd at an atmospheric Celtic Park.
The Irishmen were hanging on grimly at the end after seeing a position of some comfort at 18-10 ahead with a man advantage scraped away by the Warriors, but the key was the reigning champions’ relentless phase play that allowed them to soak up so much time once they got ahead.
With the game played in saturated conditions, they made barely any errors with ball in hand and that domination of the ball was good enough, even if they rarely looked like scoring tries by any other method but brute force.
Garry Ringrose scored from a charge-down and Cian Healy got the other of Leinster’s tries with Matt Fagerson and Grant Stewart replying for Glasgow, the difference in the end being Jonny Sexton’s two penalties to Adam Hastings’ one.
It was a sad end to Stuart Hogg’s time at the Warriors, his clearance kick being the one charged down for Ringrose’s try and he was forced off with concussion after being hit in the air by Rob Kearney, the Irish international full-back seeing only a yellow card largely as a result of Hogg breaking his fall.
But there was no question that the champions deserved to retain their trophy, controlling large parts of the game and largely shutting down Glasgow’s running game.
Glasgow got an early lift by taking the first of what was to become a fusillade of high kicks by Leinster and attacking with intent, Kyle Steyn and Hogg nearly breaking through.
But despite their early flurry Glasgow didn’t make the telling break, and Leinster won a penalty as their box-kicking game caused the Warriors early problems.
Sexton took a knock shortly before the kick and when he recovered pushed the penalty to the right.
But the Lions stand-off nearly set up Leinster in fortuitous fashion when Tommy Seymour half-charged down a James Lowe clearance kick and a clutch of Irishmen were suddenly onside to counterattack, Sexton’s inside pass to Jack Conan as they went into the Glasgow 22 going to ground to spare the Warriors.
Glasgow’s defence was up to the job and they nearly countered off loose ball by Leinster, Robbie Henshaw’s tackle on Seymour possibly saving a score as the Scotland wing pounced.
The Warriors’ try was only delayed as Gray stole a lineout, Scott Cummings made a penetrative carry near the line, and Fagerson was in behind him to pick up and score.
Yet Glasgow were sloppy with the exit from the restart, Hogg’s attempted clearance kick charged down by Luke McGrath with such force it seemed certain to go touch in goal, only for the heavy spin of the ball to keep it in bounds for Garry Ringrose to get the score.
Sexton missed the conversion and Glasgow went up the other end with the impressive Steyn again making a telling break. Hogg and Van der Merwe couldn’t make a two-on-one the centre created count but Leinster were eventually offside near the posts and Hastings kicked Glasgow 10-5 ahead.
The Warriors suffered a big blow just before the half-hour with Fraser Brown getting an ankle trapped as he was cleared out of a ruck, Grant Stewart coming on for the Scotland hooker.
From the scrum that resulted Leinster had a solid platform for their multi-phase power game, and they inched their way gradually to the line for Cian Healy to wrestle his way across, Sexton converting.
Sexton converted and added a penalty for a scrum offence as Leinster’s defence blunted Glasgow’s efforts to hit back, securing a 15-10 lead at the break.
Glasgow again started with purpose but were caught on the counter after Ringrose again hacked through and regathered, Steyn getting back to save the try but penalised and yellow-carded for killing the ball.
Leinster kicked to the corner but were stalled and eventually settled for a straightforward penalty from Sexton.
The Irishmen were trying to turn the screw now, and Sexton’s exquisite little kick in behind forced a scrum five by the undermanned Warriors.
But through a long period of pressure they scrum somehow held, and with Steyn returned they forced a knock-on and a penalty to clear their lines.
Then Kearney chased another Leinster high kick but took Hogg out high in the air, and the Irish 15 was lucky his opposite number came to earth on his elbow, ensuring it was a yellow instead of the red card the crowd were howling for.
Leinster however played a man down expertly by sucking time off the clock with their multi-phase game, and although Glasgow eventually turned them over there was just four minutes left to make up the deficit.
Runs by replacements Peter Horne and Huw Jones got them some ground, however, and then a blindside move caught Leinster shorthanded for once and Stewart raced in like a wing down the touchline for the try.
Hastings couldn’t convert and Leinster forced a knock-on after a strong defensive set to play out the remaining seconds and secure victory.
Glasgow: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Kyle Steyn, Sam Johnson, DTH van der Merwe; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray; Rob Harley, Callum Gibbins (capt), Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Grant Stewart for Brown 26, Oli Kebble for Bhatti 52, Suia Halanukonuka for Z Fagerson 67, Ryan Wilson for Harley 52, Tom Gordon for Gibbins 79, George Horne for Price 58, Pete Horne for Johnson 56, Huw Jones for Hogg 64.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadgh Furlong; Scott Fardy, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne for Cronin 64, Ed Byrne for Healy 63, Andrew Porter for Furlong 64, Ross Molony for Ruddock 78, Max Deegan for van der flier 73, Nick McCarthy for McGrath 76, Ross Byrne for Sexton 73.
Ref: N Owens (WRU)