After the many months of fierce competitive action, the two playoff semi-finals last weekend confirmed that the two Conference teams in the regular season are head and shoulders above the opposition in the league.
Glasgow Warriors and Leinster Rugby lock horns in a final at the majestic Parkhead where attacking rugby should be in plentiful supply on Saturday evening.
Will it be a final game to savior for Stuart Hogg before departing Glasgow Warriors for Exeter Chiefs or will Leinster Rugby’s experience and overall quality prevail? Hawkeye Sidekick previews the final action.
Regular Season Run In:
Both sides had different regular season run ins. Leinster Rugby were the form side of Conference B and they clinched their top spot with the minimum of fuss and the last four regular league fixtures saw Leo Cullen rotate his squad.
Glasgow Warriors on the other hand had to go down to the final game of the regular season. After a wobble at the start of the calendar year, they recovered superbly under Dave Rennie to secure numerous bonus point wins.
Once Munster Rugby lost on the road to the Scarlets back in March, Glasgow Warriors strode to the top of Conference A and never looked like relinquishing the place. Worthy top seeds.
Leinster Rugby had a potentially difficult banana skin fixture against local rivals Munster Rugby last weekend. After such a tough European Cup loss to Saracens the week before, it was seen as an opportunity for Munster Rugby to upset the side.
However, Leinster Rugby showed their class defensively and with ball in hand to take this fixture away from Munster Rugby in the second half. They were defensively superb; only one line break for Munster Rugby all game and then they broke out to score two superb tries, the first of those which involved the whole front row unit. Cronin crashed over but the setup work from Conan, Healy and Furlong was world class.
Glasgow Warriors had a couple of weeks to prepare for their home semi-final fixture against Ulster Rugby. The performance was outstanding, they exposed Ulster’s sluggish line speed and tentative start to take this game early. Hastings in particular shone in open play and his distribution and timing of the pass allowed his ball carriers to create line break after line break.
It was a performance which showed Glasgow Warriors potent attacking sense. Their clear out work at ruck time was immense, early ball for the half backs to impress. Ulster Rugby never had a prayer. Fifty points scored evidence of their clinical display.
The post-game comments from Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen have irked Glasgow Warriors supporters and the club given the twits in the hours afterwards from those comments. It has galvanized the Glasgow Warriors and the city of Glasgow and West Scotland for this; everyone is united and determined to win the Guinness Pro14. Not the most opportune comment from Leo Cullen ahead of the final!
The pack battle is going to be interesting to observe. Glasgow Warriors weapons in attack are extensive but as shown by Saracens, a well drilled pack unit can massively expose Glasgow Warriors in the set piece. The maul from Saracens in their European Cup quarter final saw Glasgow Warriors’ hopes evaporated pretty quickly. Can Leinster Rugby front five in particular provide that platform? If they do, then Leinster Rugby have one hand on the trophy.
The half back battle will be a keynote area. Luke McGrath’s performance in particular will be under the microscope after the disappointment of the Heineken Champions Cup final where his contribution at the end of the half saw Saracens create a try scoring opportunity to level the final and provide massive momentum for Saracens who never looked back. Can McGrath provide more assured game management at critical junctures? Sexton and McGrath will look to create in open play but they must pick their moments against this potent Warriors back three.
The Glasgow Warriors back row unit and their ability to turnover and create quick ruck ball could be potentially the story of this final. They have destroyed the Irish provinces this season at home in this facet of play and Leinster Rugby will be fully aware of the dangers if they provide Glasgow Warriors quick ball for the likes of Hogg and Seymour to impress.
I should be going for Leinster Rugby here. Their experience on these final occasions has been on point but there is something about the buildup to this contest which is pointing to a Glasgow Warriors win.
The galvanizing effect that the final has had on Glasgow and Scotland in general is something that cannot be ignored. The Glasgow Warriors have the attacking threat to win this and coupled with an unrepentant work rate to win this home final, they get the nod from me.
I am worried for Leinster Rugby and the wear / tear of the season has had on their marquee players; if they need to come from behind, can the side deliver at the death?
The players and talent in the side are present but the energy levels are questionable given their recent European Cup involvement. Glasgow Warriors are the fresher side here. It should be fireworks central! Let us hope that the final delivers!