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Leinster 34 Glasgow Warriors 12: Champions shows Gregor Townsend's men the path to glory

There were many consolations for Glasgow at the end of this fierce but ultimately fruitless RaboDirect PRO12 final, none more pertinent than the thought that Leinster built a reputation as serial nearly-men before they shook it off and established themselves as giants of European and Celtic rugby.

Ruaridh Jackson shows his dejection at the final whistle in Dublin
Ruaridh Jackson shows his dejection at the final whistle in Dublin

That consideration might drive on the Warriors players when they gather to prepare for next season's campaigns, but on Saturday evening the mood in their camp was still dominated by an awareness that they had dipped below what they were capable of on a day when only the best would do.

Collectively, they lacked the compelling rhythm they had built up in the run of nine straight victories that had brought them to their first-ever major final.

Individually, only one or two players stood out. Chris Cusiter, playing his last game for Glasgow before his move to Sale, was a typically waspish presence until he retired with a head knock early in the second half, while Jonny Gray added another layer to his burgeoning reputation with a rampaging display.

Yet Glasgow, with Finn Russell a less authoritative presence at fly-half than he had been in recent games, lacked shape, made far too many errors, and appeared to be drained of energy in the muggy Dublin conditions.

There was also a strong suspicion that the magnitude of the occasion, charged as it was by the imminent retirements of Leinster big names Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen, had got to many of their players.

In fairness, Glasgow did still produce passages of the quick, slick and ambitious offloading game that has been their thrilling trademark for the past couple of years. Yet they played it in fits and starts, and too many of those sequences ended with handling errors. Leinster also summoned all their experience to repel the Warriors' efforts, retaining a composure that would have deserted lesser teams.

Goodness knows what emotional drive Brian O'Driscoll's parting gave to Leinster, but his premature departure - he hobbled off with a calf injury after just eight minutes - did not seem to dishevel them too badly. Afterwards, it was revealed that the calf had been troubling the world's most capped player all week, and that Ian Madigan, who took over, had been training with that eventuality in mind.

Gregor Townsend, the Glasgow coach, suggested that his side's failure to strike in the immediate aftermath of O'Driscoll's going was a significant opportunity lost. But the game's psychological turning point came 15 minutes into the second half when Niko Matawalu tried to squeeze over in the left corner and knocked the ball on. Leinster played advantage, ran it back from behind their own line, and were camped in the Glasgow 22 just a few seconds later.

No score came from the Leinster breakout, but they took belief from their boldness. From that point on the Dublin side played with more confidence, more authority and more control, while Glasgow looked increasingly desperate in their efforts to get back into the game.

The Warriors had conceded an early try to Zane Kirchner and coughed up another to Shane Jennings late in the first half. Russell kept them in touch with his four penalties before the interval, but two kicks from Leinster fly-half Jimmy Gopperth around the hour mark gave the home side the cushion they needed. Glasgow's play became looser, and they were punished by the late tries from Kirchner and Gordon D'Arcy that added a rather flattering gloss to Leinster's margin.

"We didn't play as well as we could," was Townsend's matter-of-fact assessment. "I thought Leinster played really well. There were times when we caused them some doubt and got in behind them, but they stuck with the way they were playing and took their opportunities.

"Their tries in the first half showed really clinical finishing, which we lacked. We have shown progress because we have got to a final; if we get back to a final, which I believe we can, I think we will handle the day much better."

With Cusiter, Moray Low and Ruaridh Jackson playing their last games for the Warriors, Townsend's squad will look different next season, but not radically so. His challenge is to maintain a trajectory on which they have gone from being beaten semi-finalists to being beaten finalists, and to aspire to the levels Leinster have reached with their momentous trophy haul in recent seasons.

"We are on a path here," said the coach. "Five or six years ago Leinster lost two Heineken Cup semi-finals in a row and they lost the final of the Rabo. But when they made the breakthrough, they won three European Cups in a period of four years and have now won the Rabo two years running.

"We will keep working hard to get there. What the players have achieved this year is fantastic and we are really disappointed that we didn't push Leinster more. They didn't win the game, but they can be really proud of the way they have played this season.

"By winning finals before you know that you will be under pressure and that you can come through. That's what we probably have to improve on. Even when we don't take our opportunities we have to know that with the players we have we can come back and win the game."

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