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Great teams are forged by failure; Glasgow must be allowed to build on final defeat

A LITTLE more than four years have passed since Glasgow Warriors defied the odds to win a place in the first play-off phase of what was then still called the Magners league.

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates Saturday's victory. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS Group/SRU

Their reward was an away semi-final against Ospreys, the well-funded and star-studded Galacticos of the competition, and it produced a predictable result. Ospreys' 20-5 victory did not even begin to hint at the scale of their supremacy.

Yet still Warriors' achievement could not be dismissed. Running on a budget that was probably less than half of what the Welsh and Irish sides of the time were spending, coach Sean Lineen had performed wonders to get the best from his players. With the famous Killer Bs back row of Brown, Barclay and Beattie at the top of their game, and Dan Parks orchestrating things wonderfully well, Glasgow were a revelation that season.

More importantly, they offered a glimpse of what the rugby big time could bring to Scottish rugby. For the best part of 15 years we had been envious bystanders as the newly professional game went into the stratosphere in other countries. Big names, gleaming new stadiums, capacity crowds; this was how rugby's other half had been living.

The case for more investment and more focus on the professional sides was overwhelming and, you would have thought, blindingly obvious.

Yet, as anyone familiar with the ways of Scottish rugby's governing body will testify, they seem to have a different definition of the blindingly obvious at Murrayfield.

With perversely comic timing, it emerged that the SRU were spending around £60,000 on a new carpet for the stadium's President's Suite while pulling the financial rug out from under the feet of Glasgow and Edinburgh by freezing their budgets.

I pointed this out in a column at the time and, in fairness, the Union acted immediately. They threatened to ban me from Murrayfield.

The threat was lifted when wiser heads within the building brought their influence to bear. The same wiser heads would, in time, make their dissatisfaction with then chief executive Gordon McKie well known. McKie had earned respect for stemming the Union's losses when they were close to financial meltdown a few years earlier, but had shown little evidence that he was the man to grow the business anew. By the end of the 2010/11 season, in which Glasgow followed up their heroics of the previous campaign by slumping to 11th place in the league, McKie was gone.

The lesson was clear. When you have a successful side the last thing you do is tighten the purse strings.

In 2010, Glasgow had created a platform for themselves, something they could build upon, but it was dynamited within a year by the parsimony and short-sightedness of their paymasters. The squad was not strengthened in any significant area, while the players who had done most to propel them into a winning position were allowed to drift away.

It took time to recover from the damage done, but to be in the febrile cauldron of the RDS for the RaboDirect PRO12 final on Saturday evening was to appreciate that Glasgow have not just done that but have moved on to a higher level still. So, too, their travelling supporters, estimated at around 3000 in number, who more than made themselves heard even when their Leinster counterparts were in full voice. Ultimately, Glasgow came up short - the final 34-12 scoreline flattered Leinster enormously - but they had earned the right to be there.

And the right to have another tilt at getting there again. The fact that Glasgow came up short should not be held against them. It is hard to think of any decent side in recent years that was not honed in the face of adversity, and the experience of playing that final - and, yes, the experience of losing it - will make them a far better team.

Munster and Leinster became giants of the European game only after they had suffered European setbacks. Toulon ended this season by winning the Heineken Cup and the French championship on successive weekends, but those who look only at their star names are ignoring the fact the team took years, and a few painful defeats, to get to where they are now.

As the contrasting fortunes of Edinburgh and Glasgow, running on roughly equal budgets, have shown, there is more to it than money. Glasgow will cope with losing such as Ruaridh Jackson, Moray Low and Chris Cusiter who all played their last games for the side on Saturday, but a loss of momentum would be heart-breaking.

There was an impression at the RDS that Leinster's advantage lay almost entirely within the confines of their greater experience. They had cool heads on a sultry evening when Glasgow looked to be the victims of over-excitement. Next time, they will be wiser and better. Their masters at Murrayfield must make sure that they get the chance.

AND ANOTHER THING

The referee Nigel Owens became an internet sensation with his celebrated "this is not soccer" lecture to mouthy Treviso scrum-half Tobias Botes last year. However, the Welsh whistler missed a chance to reprise that speech following an incident in the build-up to Zane Kirchner's first try for Leinster against Glasgow on Saturday.

It happened as Leinster recycled through a ruck near the Glasgow line. Warriors prop Gordon Reid had taken up a defensive station, and took issue when Leinster lock Mike McCarthy waded through illegally and grabbed his jersey. Reid may not be particularly proud of lashing out, but he should be more embarrassed his attempted punch barely grazed McCarthy, if it connected at all.

This was of no consequence to McCarthy. After a suitable pause, during which he presumably worked out the value of a penalty deep in Glasgow's 22, he dropped to the floor as if hit by a sniper's bullet. It is worth looking out the clip - still available on BBC iPlayer, almost exactly 15 minutes into the game - for its sheer comedy value.

Owens was widely praised for his hard line with Botes when the footage went viral. McCarthy will not be getting much respect if his dying swan routine does the same.

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